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Opening a Door to the World from Special Olympics Lesotho

Three athletes standing side by side for a group photo.

He’s just one athlete on the podium—but you’ll never believe his story. Before Special Olympics, he wouldn’t have dreamed of stepping up to a podium stage to celebrate winning a medal.

17-year-old Tsilisehang Letuka comes from the remote mountain kingdom of Lesotho, one of the smallest countries in Africa. Before he joined Special Olympics, Tsilisehang was a child who had only ever played at home. “I was shy, and I could not associate easily with others,” he shared. But in 2016, he went along to watch athletes compete at a district competition. That day he made a decision—he was determined to join in and participate himself.

When he took up running with Special Olympics, he was only able to finish 100 meters by giving his best effort. But with regular training, his performance and endurance improved dramatically. Now, he can train and compete at the district level on the Leribe mainstream team. His race is now the 400m and 800m, and he takes on these and any other challenges in his life without fear.

Desert town.

When he won gold at Special Olympics Leribe Sub-Program finals and then at the Special Olympics Lesotho National Games, his life experience changed again. He was selected for the small team of three athletes travelling to World Games. As his coach Khotso Kqakatha says of his journey to the Games, “He’s never scared, but is always proving a point: ‘I can do this thing’.”

Tsilisehang left his landlocked country of Lesotho for the first time to see his first shopping mall ever in neighboring South Africa. There, together with his two team members, Keneuoe Leaooa and Maletsatsi Pitso, they bought clothes and uniforms for their upcoming trip to Berlin, Germany. He particularly liked the escalators—also the first he’d seen. His coaches suggested on top of his uniform, he should make his own choice of any item to purchase in the store. He chose a necklace. “I was so excited for these new sports uniforms, they looked so good I decided they needed a necklace to go with them!” They also got to fulfil his teammate Keneuoe’s dream of going to a shopping mall salon—and Tsilisehang wasn’t shy! Immediately he knew what he wanted, both a slick new haircut and a pop of color for the World Games!

He didn’t sleep a wink on the plane so he wouldn’t miss any sights from the window. In Germany, he has been struck by the summer warmth, the fun of travelling on trains and the beauty of a city full of trees—a strong contrast to his cold and mountainous home village. Sharing with his coach, Tsilisehang said, “Even though I did not manage to win a medal, I had the best experience to participate among other athletes from all over the world. This participation has motivated me to carry on with my training when I get home so I can deserve a medal next time.” From a shy child who always stayed home, today Tsilisehang can stand up at the podium and proudly say to the world: “I am beautiful.”

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