This story is part of 30 Under 30.
Souleyman is a 16 year old runner. He’s visually impaired but that hasn’t held him back – it just means he needs to find a different way of doing things. He recently took part in the Junior Paralympics and won gold.
As part of our 30 Under 30 campaign, he spoke to us about his love of running and competing, overcoming barriers and how he’s working towards the 2020 Paralympics.
Ever since I was young I really enjoyed competing. I always used to win races in primary school. I enjoyed sports day, I enjoyed all kinds of races at the park with my friends and it turned into a passion. In year 7 at high school my teacher said “you have a talent, you should join a club”. So I joined a club and started getting better.
The British Athletics Paralympics selected me to do the School Games, which is also known as the Junior Paralympics. This was in November last year and I won gold. I’ve competed for my club, Kingston, but to be at a major championship, it was a great experience. And Brazil itself was cool. The sun was out all day, it was warm, the people were amazing, and the vibe was so good.
I didn’t expect to be at that level so to actually come away being the world number one was a huge shock. I knew I was decent but I didn’t know I was that good. All my family and my friends were so buzzed, they were like “You’re going to be the next Usain Bolt”. Another door has opened, and it’s just a case of seeing where that can go.
Getting to the 2020 Paralympics
Competing at the 2020 Paralympics in Tokyo is my main goal. My coach and I sat down and made a plan of what we’re going to do, how we’re going to get there. Before then there are championships like the Europeans, Commonwealth and World Championships – all these other competitions that I can compete at.
Wherever you hear “Olympics” you also hear “Paralympics” so there’s been a huge shift. It’s being acknowledged in society and people are seeing that disabled people can do the same things that non-disabled people can do. They just need to do it in a different way.
Overcoming challenges and attitudes
The way my visual impairment works – I can’t see through one eye, and the other eye is tunnel vision, so I don’t see what’s around me in my peripheral vision. It makes it hard to stay in my lane and see who’s next to me and how fast I should be running. I can see straight ahead, which is good for the 100m. But you need to see who’s beside you to judge your pace. It is very difficult in all areas of life.
People’s attitudes are quite frustrating. For some reason they think because I have a visual impairment or a disability I’m not cognitively able to do things. I’m not stupid, I just can’t see! I’m a huge believer in whatever you can imagine for yourself, you can achieve it. It’s about finding what needs to be overcome. Especially with me, with my visual impairment, I’ve never thought there’s something I can’t do. I can do it, but I have to find an alternative way of doing it.
In athletics I want to achieve as much as possible. Whether it’s winning gold, getting a world record or being a role model for other people. After I won at the School Games in Brazil, visually impaired people and disabled people contacted me and said “It’s amazing what you’ve achieved as a young disabled person and you’ve inspired me” which is something I never thought I’d hear. That just made me want to push harder.
Souleyman is sharing his story as part of our 30 Under 30 campaign. We are releasing one story a day throughout June from disabled people under 30 who are doing extraordinary things. Read more from our #30toWatch on our website.