Souleyman Bah was five years old when his family arrived in the UK as asylum seekers escaping political disturbance in Guinea. Once in the UK, he was diagnosed with a rare eye condition. Now, he’s a medal-winning sprinter and a contender for Team GB at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics. Last year he became the first disabled candidate to compete on ‘The Apprentice’.
When I was at school in Guinea, I couldn’t read any of the books or see the whiteboard. I didn’t get my eye condition diagnosed until my family moved to the UK. I have retinitis pigmentosa, a rare degenerative inherited eye condition which affects my peripheral and night vision. It gets worse over time and eventually leads to blindness.
I didn’t speak English when I moved here, so I made friends through sport. I was especially good at racing against the other kids. I’d win races every sports day. When I moved to Kingston, I broke a school record and started to take sprinting seriously.
I want to bring positivity into the world of visual impairment. It’s not the same thing as blindness. Sometimes people will see my white cane, and then see me glance at my phone to look at the time. They’ll be like: What the hell’s going on here?
I love jogging along the river Thames. I love how it connects the whole of London. Whether you’re in Kingston or Waterloo, everyone sees the same river.
Sometimes when family come to visit, I’ll take them on a guided tour. We always joke about the irony of going sightseeing with somebody who can’t see!
Growing up, I didn’t see many people in the public eye who were partially sighted. Mo Farah, Usain Bolt and Jessica Ennis were my main role models, and I used to think that, because of my visual impairment, I couldn’t compete at that level.
I first learned about visually impaired sport when the 2012 Olympics came to London. It was a real lightbulb moment. I thought: I can do this.
Last year I entered ‘The Apprentice’. When I got fired, Alan Sugar called me ‘brave’. I thought that was a bit patronising. I experience this a lot when I do everyday things – buying a bottle of milk, or taking the bins out. People say: ‘You’re so brave.’
I’ve never allowed myself to view my disability in a negative way. I’ve always used it as something to help me and empower me – it pushed me to win at sport. I always see the silver lining.
Winning my first gold medal at the Junior Paralympic Games felt amazing. It didn’t really hit me until the medal ceremony.
I’ve been working hard to try and get selected for the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics. When the season starts this summer, I’ll find out if I’ve made the GB team. If I put in a fantastic performance early in the 2020 season, hopefully that should bag me a ticket.
Now meet more incredible Londoners
If you’ve read our regular ‘My London Story’ feature in the free Time Out London magazine or online, you’ll know that there’s no end of fascinating, inspiring people in this city of ours. From activists to hairdressers, mermaids to hedge-trimmers and aviators to refugees, we’ve met some incredible Londoners this year. Here are a few of the best.