“I don’t let anyone tell me what I can or can’t do,” Leonard Bailey says. But there is one thing this athlete with Down Syndrome definitely can’t do – come home empty-handed. Year after year, Bailey would leave school athletics events with trophies in his arms and medals hanging off his neck.
Born into a family of sports fanatics, it was inevitable he’d be a champion. Today, Bailey is a record-holding gold medalist, proving his prowess in shot put, discus and javelin. “Because he’s got the weight to do it,” Bailey’s mother, Angelina, says with a laugh.
But this athlete’s journey to success hasn’t been plain sailing. Bailey’s father is a pensioner on whom the family is dependent. From sports shoes to airplane tickets, the costs add up – particularly when people are reluctant to sponsor differently-abled athletes.
In 2018, Bailey qualified to compete at the International Athletics Association for People with Down Syndrome World Championships, but couldn’t afford the trip to Portugal. Two days before the competition, another athlete’s parents donated the funds.
After thinking he wouldn’t make it, Bailey went on to break a world record for shot put.
With unshakeable perseverance, Bailey has travelled the globe and inspired others to push past their perceptions of capability.
“He rose above his circumstances,” his mother says.
Shelves of trophies and close to 100 medals now fill the athlete’s home. His talent is undeniable. Going forward, Bailey has his sights on the 2020 Paralympics.
“I want to win,” he says. “Success is a stone’s throw away.”
Courtesy of Beautiful News South Africa