NAIROBI, February 22 – From the moment you set your eyes on him, Sam Jethwa looks just like anyone at a rally event coming to cheer on their favourite driver.He is confined to a wheelchair and his happy go lucky attitude and humor makes you quickly forget about his confinement.
Jethwa then reveals he is actually one of the competitors at the rally and he is an experienced navigator and has been rallying for a several seasons here in Kenya.
Jethwa has been a life-long motor racing fan, and first got interested in rallying when his father serviced for the legendary Pat Moss and Eric Carlson when they drove Saab front-wheel drive vehicles in the Safari Rally during the 60’s and 70’s.
Over the teen years he spent a lot of time with his friends whos families were involved in rallying back in the day including Carl and Natasha Tundo whos father Frank, was an ardent rally participant. He would also spend a lot of time with his dad in his workshop whenever he would be working on cars in their family workshop back at home, and the bug had already caught up with him.
Unfortunately He was involved in a near-fatal car accident along Langata Road, when he was 14 years old and sustained a serious spinal injury and has been confined to a wheel chair since.
In his later years he studied at the University of Perth, Australia for a degree in management then lived and worked for a tour company in Dublin, Ireland after completing his studies.
After coming back and setting up his business Jethwa decided its time he revived his childhood dreams and passion and that to be involved in rally.
“I really wanted to take part in rallying in Kenya, unfortunately when I approached the body the motorsports is under, they did not know how to handle my case, so as to issue me with a rally license. So they advised me to seek a special rally test to certify me that am able to adhere to the conditions of the sport” he said.
Jethwa then had to dig into his pocket for the training course which was not available locally.
“I had to travel to London and engage the services of UK rally coach Howard Patterson, it was a one day test but costed me quiet a penny for that, but I eventually got the license required and now am rallying”.
EAST AFRICA CLASSIC RALLY
In a gesture to support the rehabilitation of people with spinal injuries at the National Spinal Injury Hospital in Nairobi, Jethwa competed as a driver in a 1971 Peugeot 504 in the 5,000km-long East Africa Classic Safari for 10 days in December 2009 to raise funds.
As much as the tough got going in the rally, which they had underestimated together with navigator Tim Challen, Jethwa says the results of his objective were more than satisfactory.
“We managed to raise more than 1.5 million shillings, but not in cash, since most of the people and companies who came through to assist gave various donations in kind, including re-painting the whole hospital. They also received 50 wheelchairs donated by Sameer Industry’s. Furthermore the hospital received a lot of recognition for its work.
To prepare for the Classic Jethwa sort the services of rally legend Ian Duncan for technical assistance.
“The car had been fitted with a special throttle to operate and breaks using unique extensions on the steering wheel”
His motivations for the cause came from the fact that, many Kenyans like him with spinal injuries were suffering due to lack of proper rehabilitation facilities and are languishing at the National Spinal Injuries Hospital in Nairobi.
This year with the return of the rally season Jethwa took the navigators seat for the first round in Voi where he managed to guide comeback driver Rob Hellier to the 21st position in a Datsun 160J.
The rally car was last used 18 years ago and with Hellier’s experience in the sport managed to restore it and have plans to rally with it till the end of the season with Jethwa on the navigators seat.
He says he has achieved a lot in his time in the sport and his dream is to show that disability is not an inability in what circumstances one is in life.
This year he and Hellier are planning to drive the Datsun in all 8 rounds and their aim is to clinch the Classic Cup.
“Our plans for 2011, putting in mind if we get the support from sponsors, are to complete the season and probably win the cup for our class. But in the future I hope to progress to the Group N which is more challenging and demanding due to the competition in it”.
Jethwa who currently runs his own business, Java Leather Ltd that deals in finished leather hides, is quiet aware of how challenging it is for anyone in his situation but has a word of encouragement.
“If you would love to do something no matter what situation you are in as a person with disability get involved with. You will be surprised by the support one gets from the ones in what you and it will only encourage you to be and do the best in what you do. If you will never do it then you will never know what you missing”.
And yes indeed we will be seeing a lot of Jethwa in rallies to come as he continues to defy the odds and negativity against people who have disabilities.