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Office of Inclusion hosts Global Sports Mentoring Program Mentee

Meet Lizzie Kiama

The NCAA will once again host an international emerging leader at its headquarters in Indianapolis and provide development, education and network opportunities as a partner in the Global Sports Mentoring Program (GSMP).

GSMP is an exchange program designed by the U.S. State Department in collaboration with espnW.  It places emerging leaders from around the world in prominent U.S. sports companies with female executives as mentors. The NCAA, in its third year of involvement, is hosting Lizzie Kiama in the office of Diversity and Inclusion, with Karen Morrison, NCAA director of inclusion and a former campus athletics administrator, serving as mentor. 

Hailing from Mombasa, Kenya, Lizzie has been involved in sports since she was young. Basketball was her favorite so she focused her free time on developing her skills and enjoying playing with friends. A disabling car accident at the age of 18 put a hold on her usual activities, but did not take her out of the game completely.

“I lost mobility in my legs but I moved from my wheelchair, to crutches to just one crutch and was back to work in six months,” she said. “Being young and active before my accident helped a lot with my recovery.”

Kiama chose not to let her disability define her, continuing to make her way through her life in the same way she had before her accident, remaining active through sports and  rarely mentioning her disability.

"Interestingly, I never used to talk about my disability. I never used it as a part of my identity. There was always a bad side of that because I didn’t let anyone in. It worked to a certain degree, but when it came time to start thinking about getting married, I had to let my, now husband, in."

She credits her husband, Ibrahim, with helping her embrace everything about herself. This support branched from a long friendship before marriage; she mentions "We had been friends for a number of years after my accident. He accepted me the way I was and made it very easy to be open with him and be vulnerable, which is something I used to struggle with."

With her new found confidence, Kiama moved forward with a mission to find a way to impact the world around her while remaining physically active. The self-proclaimed creative spirit quickly came up with the idea of This-Ability, a management consulting firm offering support to businesses in Kenya to reach their goals with issues like poverty, human rights and the protection of marginalized populations.  From this firm a project idea was born: Women and Wheels.

“The program promotes inclusion and the integration of women with varying degrees of mobility through friendly wheelchair rugby competitions,” said Kiama. “It is designed to use sport to increase understanding about the life of women with disabilities and address existing stereotypes.”

During her time at the national office Kiama will explore ways to expand her project. She notes the original focus of the program was for women with disabilities to remain active through rugby. Unfortunately, there aren’t many growth opportunities currently for rugby, but Kiama is looking for other options.

“I have been exposed to wheelchair basketball and it seems like a viable activity for my project because there are more growth aspects. If we are good we could even take it to possibly compete on the Paralympic level. I seem to be getting more support from people regarding wheelchair basketball too, and I think I really want to play.”

As a conclusion to the GSMP, Lizzie must leave the NCAA with new information and an action plan to take back to her project for success. Her time spent at the national office reflects this goal with visits to member schools and meetings with influential women in sports, inside and outside of the building.    

"I was coming here hoping to learn how to advance my project,” said Kiama. “I am lucky this is the first week and I have a firm footing on what I want to do next.”

Lizzie’s time at the national office continued to be eventful, featuring trips to Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, the Rehabilitation Hospital of Indiana Sports Program and the University of Illinois’ wheelchair basketball program. 

Her time spent at the University of Illinois inspired Kiama to take her project in a different direction.  She now intends to focus on youth disability sports and helping children remain active. She hopes to create an environment where they are well supported and gain those invaluable skills from sports, that she has.

“Sports have helped me gain my confidence and learn how to be my full self, said Kiama. “I want the youth to have access to these same experiences to help with their personal growth. They are so important to the development of any project and now will be the focus of mine.”

Following this revelation and a final presentation to the NCAA Inclusion department, Kiama headed back to Washington, D.C. to reunite with her GSPM class where they will discuss experiences and conclude the program. No matter the outcome Kiama is grateful for the opportunity to learn in a new environment.