Heal­ing hor­rors of war on the track Para-ath­lete Alaize aims for glory af­ter sur­viv­ing atroc­ity in Africa

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - SPORTS -

LON­DON — Jean-Bap­tiste Alaize is known as the ‘Lion’, not for his con­sid­er­able paraath­let­ics achieve­ments but for sur­viv­ing hor­rific wounds sus­tained in Bu­rundi’s civil war over two decades ago, he told AFP.

The 26-year-old — who won bronze for France in the long jump at last month’s world para-ath­let­ics cham­pi­onships at Lon­don Sta­dium — was just three when he and his fam­ily, who are Tut­sis, fell vic­tim to the on­slaught of the ma­jor­ity Hu­tus in 1993.

Eight of his fam­ily, in­clud­ing his mother, were hacked to death while he suf­fered four se­ri­ous wounds to his wrist — a cut so deep he was for­tu­nate not lose his hand — his head and back, all of which still bear the scars.

How­ever, that was not the worst of it as sur­geons had no op­tion but to am­pu­tate the lower part of his right leg.

“I was all but dead for a week,” he told AFP by phone be­fore fly­ing to Bu­rundi for the Friend­ship Games which get un­der­way on Fri­day and where he will speak to a cou­ple of hun­dred chil­dren from Bu­rundi, Rwanda and the Demo­cratic Repub­lic of Congo about his ex­pe­ri­ences.

“I suf­fered se­ri­ous in­ter­nal hem­or­rhag­ing as a re­sult of the four ma­chete cuts and lost so much blood.

“They (the med­i­cal staff) thought I had died on sev­eral oc­ca­sions but I de­fied the odds and was out of dan­ger by the end of the first week.

“That’s how I earned the nick­name The Lion.”

Alaize, who spent five years in an or­phan­age in Bu­rundi’s cap­i­tal Bu­jum­bura where his fa­ther had aban­doned him and failed to tell his three sisters he was still alive, doesn’t re­call much of that ap­palling ex­pe­ri­ence or in­deed his mother, save for one thing.

“I was her pet, I re­mem­ber be­ing given all the at­ten­tion,” he says. “I re­call her whis­per­ing in my ear that I was her fa­vorite.”


Life changed for the bet­ter for Jean-Bap­tiste when, aged 8, a for­mer French sol­dier Robert Alaize — who had coin­ci­den­tally lost a leg in an ac­ci­dent — vis­ited the or­phan­age and along with his wife Danielle adopted him.

There he says he was brought up in a lov­ing house­hold along with his ‘brother’ Julien, who comes from Rwanda, and was also adopted by the cou­ple, who foster chil­dren from dif­fi­cult cir­cum­stances.

“They gave me a lot of love and en­cour­aged me in tak­ing up sports,” Jean-Bap­tiste said.

“Although I went to a psy­chol­o­gist to help me through the trauma it was through sports that I re­ally found the most ther­a­peu­tic rem­edy.

“Sports changed my life, I only knew death be­fore I en­coun­tered it.”

He proved pro­fi­cient at

Cham­pi­onships struck by ill­ness out­break

horse rid­ing and cy­cling, but his real tal­ent came in track and field as he won four world ju­nior ti­tles in the long jump plus sev­eral medals in the sprints.

“It was a very proud mo­ment for me to win my first ti­tle, stand­ing there and re­flect­ing on how far I had trav­eled,” he said.

Alaize, who en­joyed an emo­tional re­union with his three sisters in Bu­rundi in 2013 af­ter Danielle tracked them down and they vis­ited the spot where the mas­sacre took place and where his mother’s body was dumped, says re­turn­ing to the coun­try of his birth gives him lit­tle plea­sure.

Alaize was not even able to learn much about the cir­cum­stances of the mas­sacre, apart from the fact that he was at­tacked once he fled the house which no longer ex­ists. The per­pe­tra­tors still live in the vicin­ity and were never pros­e­cuted.

“I know more about the war than the cul­ture of the coun­try,” said Alaize.

“I am go­ing for the event (the Friend­ship Games) and not for hol­i­days. It is sports that has me go­ing back there.

“For me France is now my coun­try, not Bu­rundi.”


Sprinter Jean-Bap­tiste Alaize of France trains.

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