“There’s no formula in life,” says Dominique Bizimana. And he should know. After an athletic childhood with star-studded dreams, the Rwandan Paralympian lost his left lower leg in 1992 when he stepped on a landmine during his country’s civil war. An ethnic Tutsi, Dominique was born in Burundi in 1976 as the son of a refugee who had fled Rwanda in 1959. Despite the difficulties of living in exile, “my mother and my relatives helped me to have a normal childhood,” he says. Dominique’s dream as a child was to compete in sports at the highest level. He played football, volleyball, handball and karate. When he lost his lower leg fighting for the rebel Rwandan Patriotic Front, he thought his dream – his life even – was over.
“At the time I had never seen someone with one leg. I could not imagine surviving for even one week with only one leg,” he says.
In 1994 he was selected as one of 10 people to be given a prosthesis after the war. The fact that he had begun to play sports again, such as volleyball and karate, on only one leg had caught people’s attention and led to his selection. Since he was fitted with his first prosthesis, the now 37-year-old sitting volleyball player has become more than a sports star; he has helped to shape sports for people with a disability in his home and neighbouring African countries.
“Being able to play volleyball again was like a rebirth for me,” he says.
Despite much success in sports in the intervening years, Dominique first got involved with the Paralympic movement in 2001 as one of the founding members of the National Paralympic Committee of Rwanda, which was established November 1, 2001. As the committee’s vice president and understanding the difficulty his country faced to develop sports for people with a disability, he decided to focus - on standing volleyball, athletics and powerlifting.
At the end of 2003, Dominique was elected president of the NPC Rwanda, a mission he accepted head on. As president he remained a coach and player and convinced many people to join the cause. The movement gained momentum and in 2004 – at his country’s only second appearance on the Paralympic stage – Rwanda brought home a bronze medal from the Games in Athens. Although this was a great achievement for his country, the former soldier and undying athlete had yet to fulfil his dream. That was until 2012 when he qualified with his teammates in sitting volleyball for the London Paralympic Games. Fielding a team sport at the Paralympics was another first in the Rwandan Paralympic story.
Year of birth: 1976
Sport: Sitting Volleyball
Career highlights: Beating Morocco at the London 2012 Paralympic Games to achieve his first win in Paralympic competition and secure a ninth place finish.