By Tom Degun

One of the trademarks of Paralympic sport is that practically all the participating athletes have an inspiring story to tell. In no-able bodied sport do you hear such an abundance of dramatic tales which see individuals face the greatest of adversities and come out the other side as heroes.

But even by Paralympic standards, the story of the remarkable Anne Olympia Wafula Strike, a Kenyan-born wheelchair racer who now competes for Great Britain, is unbelievable.

I feel I will do her path through life very little justice in the next few sentences but it is fitting to give you an overview of probably the most inspiring tale I have heard.

Anne Olympia Wafula was born on May 8, 1969 in a small village called Mihuu in Western Kenya. She was a strong child that lived up to her powerful middle name but at just two-years-old, she was struck down by polio and left paralysed from the waist down. No one in the village understood the disease and the local witch-doctor claimed that Anne was the victim of "black magic".

The villagers labeled her cursed and referred to her as a "snake" - due to the way she had to crawl around using only her upper body - saying that she should be left to die. Her family was forced to flee the village for the safety of their daughter and Anne was sent to a special school for the disabled which was located far from her home. Then, just when Anne needed her most, her mother died suddenly leaving her father to look after eight children alone.

However, despite being written off by many, Anne went on to achieve fantastic academic results despite being caught up in a military coup that nearly cost her everything. She became the first member of her family to go to University where she qualified as a teacher before falling in love with and marrying and English man from Newcastle named Norman and moving to Essex in England with him.

In England, Anne defied what medical experts had told her was impossible by giving birth to a baby boy called Timothy (pictured) despite her condition. Following the birth of her son, Anne looked for a way to lose some weight and stumbled across wheelchair racing. She turned out to be rather good at the sport and shortly after taking it up, she received the remarkable distinction of competing at the Athens 2004 Paralympic Games becoming the first ever wheelchair racer from East Africa to compete in the Paralympics.

Anne then switched allegiance to so that she could stay in Essex with her husband and son and despite being put in the wrong disability category in her sport alongside athletes processing more mobility than her - a category she bizarrely remains in to this day - she went on to win a bronze medal at the 2007 BT Paralympic World Cup in Manchester.

Her triumphs in the sport earned her a trip to Buckingham Palace to meet the Queen and in what appears to be only the first chapter in her remarkable journey. Anne is currently in further training with a view to representing Britain at the London 2012 Paralympic Games.

Last week, Anne’s incredible tale became a published book after she won the BBC One competition My Story which was launched last year to find the most inspiring true-life stories in the UK.

Despite over 75,000 people sending entries in for the My Story competition, the panel of judges unsurprisingly short-listed Anne’s story as one of 15 finalists before naming her tale as the second of five books to win the ultimate prize of seeing their story become a book published by Harpertrue.

The book, titled: "In My Dreams I Dance" is truly one of the most moving true stories around but for the 41-year-old, her tale is as much about giving hope to others as it is about herself. 

"I was just so excited when I won the competition," Anne told me in her strong Kenyan accent. "As it gives people the chance to the chance to get to know the real Anne and understand all about me and what I have been through.

"But my biggest hope is that people read my book and see how I overcame my disabilities to achieve more than I ever dreamed I could.

"I hope that my story makes them view disabilities in a different way and makes them believe that they can overcome any obstacle if they work hard enough.

"I feel privileged that I’ve had the chance to tell my story and hope it will encourage others to take on challenges and most of all, when the going gets tough, never give up."

Anne revealed that, having lived in England for the last ten years, she feels as though she is English and admitted that she owes a huge debt to the country that introduced her to the sport of wheelchair racing. However, she added that she will never forget her Kenyan roots no matter what she goes on to achieve representing Britain.

"England is where I first discovered wheelchair racing existed," Anne explained to me, "So I do feel like I am from Great Britain.

"However, Kenya runs through my blood and will always be a huge part of who I am regardless of what kit I wear.

"I was very proud when I competed for Kenya in Athens to become the first East African wheelchair racer to compete at the Paralympics but I am also very proud to compete for Great Britain as well so I consider myself and Essex girl from Africa.

"But the decision to switch from Kenya to Great Britain was not an easy one. In the end, I did it so that I could stay with my family in England. I love my husband and my son very much and they love me so competing for Great Britain and this allows me to be near them all the time. Kenya understood that my move was for family reasons and they supported that. I do miss my family in Kenya and my dad but I know that they are very proud of me and I am so happy to be representing Great Britain."

Anne started racing in the T53 category after her disability was defined as severe. She was one of the strongest racers in the category and respected around the world when suddenly, in a strange incident just before she was due to compete at the 2006 International Paralympic Committee (IPC) Athletics World Championships in Assen in the Netherlands, she was without warning reclassified as a T54, a more able category.

Anne admitted that she competed at the prestigious competition with "tears in my eyes" and even thought about giving up the sport due to the injustice of the outrageous decision. But ever the fighter, Anne refused to quit and achieved the remarkable feat of winning medals, most notably at the 2007 BT Paralympic World Cup, in her new category.

However, Anne had a full medical assessment in December 2008 at the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital which was under taken by Dr Joseph Cowen. The thorough medical examination concluded that Anne was in the wrong category as Dr Cowen wrote: "The amount of activity seen in the muscles is not likely to give her useful strength in the trunk in my opinion. I would therefore regard her as paralysed below T7."

"I felt sore for a few days after the test” Anne said, “But hoped that now a definitive medical test had been carried out I could be reclassified. "But I heard no more about it.”

It is remains unclear whether Anne will be reclassified again, this time into her proper category, but the eternal warrior admits that she will carry on her sport regardless of what category she is in.

She is experiencing post-polio syndrome which can leave her tired and give her aches and pains but Anne says that nothing will stop her trying to achieve her goal of competing at the London 2012 Paralympics.

She said: “It is unbelievable that the most prestigious international Paralympic competition in the world is taking place on my doorstep and that I have a chance to compete in them. It would be such a dream to compete in that amazing stadium in Stratford with my child, who I never thought I could have, cheering me on. What better dream could there be than that?

"I am taking things one day at a time, always looking at future competitions to compete in and working hard with my new local coach Ken Day and top British coach Jenny Archer to get better each day but to be honest, 2012 is my ultimate goal right now.

"In my first Paralympic Games in Athens, my aim was just to compete there and it was an honour to finish last. Now though, my goals are higher and even though I am in the wrong category, I want to do well there.

"My goal is fist to make the British team for London 2012, then make the final and then to medal. You can’t look too far ahead so those are my goals in that order.

"God has allowed me to achieve so much in my life anyway but I would be the happiest woman in the world to achieve my goal of competing at London 2012 and winning a medal there."

One can only hope that Anne is reclassified in the near future. It would give her more chance of achieving her dream and there is not a soul on earth who would begrudge her a Paralympic medal. She will undoubtedly have both Kenya and Britain cheering her on to succeed but things will be far more difficult for her in the T54 disability class than in her proper category.

Anne Olympia Wafula Strike has spent her entire life overcoming the impossible and no matter what obstacles she faces in her bid for success or what category she is in. I feel certain that only the most naive of fools would ever bet against the most remarkable woman I have ever spoken to.

Anne’s book "In my Dreams I Dance" is available at £5.80 by clicking here.