Glasgow 2014: Five names to inspire and follow at the Games

By Aimee LewisBBC Sport
Commonwealth Games contenders
These Commonwealth Games competitors each have their own story to tell on their journey to Glasgow
Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games
Dates: 23 July to 3 August
Coverage: Live on BBC TV, HD, BBC Radio 5 live, BBC Radio Scotland, Red Button, Connected TVs, online, tablets and mobiles

Some of those competing in Glasgow will be trying to forget about the past. Some will want to defy the odds. Some will just want to make their nation proud.

Not everyone in this list will be competing to win, but everyone has a champion story to tell; be it about war, poverty and oppression, or gung-ho tales of heroic acts.

Here are five Commonwealth contenders who will inspire and impress, perhaps even bring a tear to your eye.

Adrien Niyonshuti: "These people came to my home and my school and killed my family"

Country: Rwanda Sport: Road cycling

Competition dates: 31 July & 3 August

Competition venue: Glasgow City

Adrien Niyonshuti rides to forget. Cycling helps block out the trauma of losing six brothers and a total of 60 family members in a genocide that killed an estimated 800,000 people in 100 days.

Niyonshuti was seven years old in 1994. He survived, somehow, and now, 20 years on, he is regarded by his compatriots as the man who is helping change perceptions of his country.

Adrien Niyonshuti
Niyonshuti races professionally for South African UCI Continental team MTN Qhubeka

Although neither he nor his cycling team-mates will step onto any podiums in Glasgow, they will still be feted as heroes back home.

Their story, of a group of genocide survivors mentored by a former Tour de France rider from the United States, has already been made into the documentary 'Rising from the Ashes'. external-link

How the Tour of Rwanda has helped unite a country

For a man who learned to ride on a wooden bike with wooden wheels, Niyonshuti's list of achievements are remarkable.

He took part in the road race at the last Commonwealths and was the first Rwandan cyclist to compete at an Olympics, battling it out in the mountain biking event at London 2012, the first black African to do so.

"It's the thing that helps me forget my problems," he says.external-link "I lost my family, my brothers, my grandmother. I have to survive this life I've been given. You never forget, you just have to be positive."

Abdul Rashid Bangura: "This is my calling, to become a world champion"

Country: Sierra Leone Sport: Boxing (Men's 75kg)

Competition dates: 26 July-2 August

Competition venue: Scottish Exhibition & Conference Centre Precinct

Abdul Rashid Bangura knows about the brutality of war. He can tell you about poverty, about struggle, about life and death.

The weighty jabs and powerful uppercuts he will attempt to absorb and evade will feel feather-light compared with the pain and grief the middleweight boxer has experienced in his 27 years.

Abdul Rashid Bangura
Bangura's father negotiated his release after the boxer was captured by rebel fighters

When rebel forces from the Revolutionary United Front took over his hometown of Makeni, the then teenager felt he had little option but to leave his family and flee.

Yet a longing for home, a longing for his father, convinced him to abandon his search for diamonds in the shallow creeks and rivers of northern Sierra Leone and began the long journey home.

"I walked with bare feet for two whole days," he recalls. "The sand burned my feet, we slept under no shelter, just so I could get back to my father."

Any journey in a country locked in a decade-long conflict, a bloody war that would claim at least 70,000 lives, is a perilous one and far from easy.

During his long and arduous trek, Bangura was captured by rebel soldiers and put to work crushing rice.

Abdul Rashid Bangura
"I believe this is my calling, to become a world champion," says Bangura. "This is my dream."

Somehow his father, Sierra Leone's boxing coach for many years, negotiated his son's release and now Bangura, his nickname "Born Champion" tattooed on his forearm, can dream of Commonwealth gold.

He can barely afford to eat after training and shares second-hand equipment with other fighters. "We do it the hard way," he says. "In Sierra Leone, it is not easy to become a good boxer."

Now working for the police, protecting the country's president and other important officials, Bangura's daily routine usually involves a four-hour training session before work begins at 9am.

But driving him on is the memory of his father, who raised his son alone after Bangura's mother left when he was one.

Abdul Rashid Bangura
The civil war in Sierra Leone started in 1991 and was eventually declared over in January 2002

He died earlier this year and Bangura said: "The only time my father was happy was when I was boxing.

"Even now, I am not boxing to please other people - I am only boxing to please my father even though he is no longer alive."

Interview and pictures courtesy of Michael Duff

Maria Toorpakai Wazir: "I was born a warrior, I will die like a warrior"

Country: Pakistan Sport: Squash

Competition dates: 24-28 July

Competition venue: Scotstoun Sports Campus

"In our area, girls are not even allowed to leave their homes," says Shamsul Qayyum Wazir, father of Pakistan's best female squash player.

Maria Toorpakai Wazir had to pretend she was a boyexternal-link to play sport as a child in Waziristan, a highly conservative region of Pakistan.

She cut her hair, burned all her girly clothes and won a wrestling competition before falling in love with squash.

Girls in sport - Maria Toorpakai Wazir

But when the truth came out about her gender, other squash players started taunting her and that's when her problems really started, for her and her family.

"When people saw Maria and realised that she did not wear a veil and that she played squash wearing shorts, they were shocked," explains her father.

"They said she had brought dishonour to our tribe and they criticised me heavily for it."

In 2007, a year after turning professional, she received an award from the Pakistani president.

However, the extra attention brought more problems, even the threat of "dire consequences" if she did not stop playing.

In an attempt to keep her from harm, a checkpoint was set up next to the family home, while snipers were positioned around the squash court whenever she played.

Eventually, Toorpakai decided enough was enough.

"A modern squash court has so much glass in it," she says. "If there was a bomb blast inside, it would kill so many innocent people."

So she spent the next four years practising in her room before moving to Canada in 2001 and joining a squash academy in Toronto.

Despite her enforced exile, her father says Pakistan "and the whole Muslim world" should be proud of his daughter.

"In our society, people celebrate when a boy is born but are aggrieved when a girl is born," he says. "This attitude must change. I want every tribal girl to have the same chances as other girls."

Sophie Pascoe: "I am living the best life... I feel very, very lucky"

Country: New Zealand Sport: Swimming

Competition dates: 24-29 July

Competition venue: Tollcross National Swimming Centre

Garry Pascoe describes the day he reversed over his two-year-old daughter while cutting the lawn on a ride-on mower.

It is a moment that will forever leave a "black dot"external-link on his life.

"It absolutely haunts me," he says of the incident back in 1995, a traumatic experience the family chose to keep private until the daughter, Sophie, wrote about it in her autobiography last year.

Sophie Pascoe
Pascoe recently signed a four-year sponsorship deal with a jewellery company

While the father's pain remains, his uninhibited "gutsy little lady" has gone on to become a champion swimmer, a six-time Paralympic gold medallist and a household name in her native New Zealand.

There have been numerous awards and world records for the 21-year-old, whose left leg was amputated below the knee following the accident.

She is expected to add to her medal haul in Glasgow when she competes in the para-swimming events.

"I never think what if," she says. "There's no point in looking back."

With a passion for fashion as well as swimming, Sophie recently signed a four-year sponsorship deal with a jewellery company.

"I am living the best life," she adds. "I feel very, very lucky."

Kent Gabourel: "I hate to see young guys throwing away their lives"

Country: Belize Sport: Triathlon

Competition date: 24 July

Competition venue: Strathclyde Country Park

In the sixth most violent country in the world, there are plenty of opportunities to step on to the wrong side of the tracks.

Kent Gabourel, Belize's former football captain, hopes that becoming the first triathlete from the Central American country to compete at a Commonwealth Games can create a legacy that will help persuade youngsters in his homeland to ditch the gangs and the streets for a world of sport.

Gabourel on his training regime

But this 34-year-old is already a sporting social worker.

"When I get back, I want to carry on racing triathlon, into our neighbours Guatemala and Mexico, and drag some kids along with me," he says.

"Drugs and gangs are the main things I worry about. They deeply affect our community.

"I hate to see young guys throwing away their lives in such a manner, so I try and get them to come over onto the sports side."

Cycling on a beach cruiser bicycle that has one fixed gear and no brakes has not been ideal. Neither has swimming in the warm Caribbean Sea when the waters in Glasgow will be significantly cooler.

But Gabourel, known as 'Bob' to his friends, isn't only preparing to compete, he is preparing to lead others to better lives.

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