Starting from nothing and achieving goals: The story of Idrissa Keita. WORLD TAEKWONDO. WORLD TAEKWONDO

From the streets of Dakar to qualifying for the Paris 2024 Paralympic Games, Idrissa Keita's story is one of resilience, grit and unwavering determination to become this summer a Paralympic athlete.

His journey from poverty, when he was forced to beg for food on the streets of Dakar, to finding his destiny through Para Taekwondo is a poignant one in our troubled times. The 20-year-old from Kaolack, Senegal, describes it as a "dream." 

"Participating in the Paralympics is the biggest dream of every athlete, including me. I am very happy and honoured to have qualified and I am proud to represent my country," said Keita, who booked his ticket to Paris 2024 after winning gold at the African qualifiers in Dakar, Senegal. 

Idrissa now has his sights set on winning a Paralympic medal for his country, Senegal's first since Beijing 2008. With this goal in mind, Keita has devoted all his time and energy to improving his technique and skills, training five days a week at his taekwondo club, Keumgang Léopold Sédar Seghor, in Dakar. 

"My biggest dream is to help my family, especially my mother, to meet all their needs and give her a comfortable life. Thanks to Para Taekwondo, I am already making her proud and happy," he said. For him, Para Taekwondo means "discipline. It's a way of life that allows us (disabled people) to thrive and not have any complexes about ourselves. It’s about showing the whole world that we can do something with our disability."

Forced to leave school at the age of 16, Keita left his home and hometown of Kaolack to support his family after his father died. "Our economic situation had deteriorated - I had to leave school and look for a job to help my mother, but although I tried for several months, I didn't succeed. That was when I left my home village and moved to Dakar in search of work and a better life," said the promising player, who has a disability in his right hand.

There were days when Keita had to beg for food on the streets of Dakar, but fate had other plans for him and his life was soon to change. "In my free time, I enjoy walking on the beach at Parcelles Assainies, listening to music and watching taekwondo videos. I have always been passionate about taekwondo," he stressed. It was on one of these days last year that Keita met Maitre Abdoulaye Ndiaye, coach of the Senegalese national para-taekwondo team.

Idrissa Keita (right) with his coach Abdoulaye Ndiaye. WORLD TAEKWONDO
Idrissa Keita (right) with his coach Abdoulaye Ndiaye. WORLD TAEKWONDO

"He asked me to join Para Taekwondo after knowing my interest in the sport. I didn't have to pay any registration fees because he (Maitre Abdoulaye Ndiaye) took care of everything for me.  I immediately started training with a club - I was determined to be part of the national team, after learning that the Paralympic Games could change my life forever and allow me to support my family," he continued. 

After two and a half months of training, Keita joined the Senegal national team for the African qualifiers for Paris 2024, and achieving this major goal was a "dream come true" for him. "All the credit goes to coach Abdoulaye Ndiaye, who introduced me to taekwondo, found me a club and put me in the national team. My life has changed completely since then. My sole focus now is to get better at Para Taekwondo. I hope to win a Paralympic medal for my country, which has not happened yet," Keita said. 

Having taken a step towards realising his biggest dream, Keita also has a message for aspiring Para Taekwondo athletes. "Anything is possible if you believe in yourself - you can start from nothing and achieve your goals," he concluded.