One-Legged Cyclist Transforms African Nation

Aug. 6, 2005 — -- From a distance, he looks like any other cyclist -- but Emmanuel Ofusu Yeboah races with one leg he was born with, and one made for him.

Like all disabled athletes, Yeboah has come a long way. But his story -- the subject of a new documentary called "Emmanuel's Gift" -- goes beyond sports: His remarkable journey has changed a country.

Yeboah was born 28 years ago with a severely deformed left leg in the African nation of Ghana. There, where an estimated 10 percent of the people are disabled from birth defects or diseases, disabled babies often are despised, seen as omens of bad fortune, and often killed or left by their parents in the wilderness to die.

"My mother, she was crying every day," Yeboah said of the shock of his disability. "Because those days, when you're born deformed child or disabled person, they think it's a curse or something like that."

Yeboah's father soon abandoned the family.

Mother's Will

But his mother refused to accept Ghana's harsh judgment on her son. She taught him to see past his limitations and enrolled him in school, almost unheard of for a disabled child.

"My mother carried me to school" two miles from home, he said, "and bring me back to home, always."

In time, Yeboah learned to play soccer on his crutches. He learned a trade, shoe making, so he would not have to beg on the streets as so many disabled people do in Ghana. Every step of the way, his mother was there -- until Christmas Eve 1997, when she died.

But her legacy to her son was profound.

"There's something always I believe myself," Yeboah said, "that I can do it, I can do it."

Alone in the world now, Yeboah set out to achieve the seemingly impossible, to change his country's prejudice against the disabled.

Cross-Country Demonstration

How? With a bicycle: Yeboah decided he would ride a bike across his entire country, nearly 400 miles, to prove what the disabled can do. So in 2002, for 10 days, he rode, pedaling on one leg, right across Ghana.

The country was astonished and inspired.

"There's so many people anywhere I reach," he said. "They said, 'Emmanuel, we wanted to do something like you, but government is not supporting us.' "

Ghana's leaders were under pressure. The king, for the first time, honored the disabled community at the royal palace.

"What you've done here is an example for these young men and women that the sky is the limit," the king said.

Today, Yeboah is a national hero in Ghana. And earlier this month, he was awarded ESPN's Arthur Ashe Courage Award. Then, he raced in a triathlon in Minneapolis.

But Yeboah says he still has work to do back home. He has set up a sports academy back home in Ghana for all athletes -- disabled or not. And he's brought 8,000 wheelchairs to his country.

"Through my riding, I have a lot of opportunities in Ghana, you see," he said. "And so many people, they very trust in me that I can do something."

ABC News' Terry Moran and Felicia Biberica originally reported this story for "World News Tonight" on July 31, 2005.

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