KAMPALA (AFP) — His name stirs amazement in coaches, while trainers gush over his skill and competitors quake in fear. Bashir Ramathan is an intimidating boxer -- even though he is blind.
Ramathan, 36, lost his sight in 1995 but refused to let that stop him from resuming his boxing career, three years ago.
Peers call him "the German" -- a reference to Germany's tenacity on the football field, mirroring Ramathan's in the ring.
"I was told by my parents I could do everything," Ramathan says, as he jumps rope outside of the East Coast Boxing Club, a dusty, concrete facility that opened last year.
"Most people were surprised. They say, 'How can this one play?'"
The thumping sounds of fists hitting punching bags echo from inside the gym. Boxers dance around each other, brightly-coloured gloves flying. Their feet, some in sneakers and some bare, skid across the floor.
Ramathan bobs and weaves among the athletes, playfully sparring with them. Both he and his opponents are blindfolded in matches, putting them on a more equal level. But he admits he had a difficult time adjusting to his disability.
"It forced me to become strong," he says.
So did a string of other misfortunes.
His mother died the year before he lost his eyesight. The year after, his grandmother died.
Then, unable to cope with his blindness, his wife left him the following year, taking their daughter with her.
"I had to learn how to be alone," Ramathan says, leaning against a wall with cracked paint.
Doctors told Ramathan his optic nerves had become paralysed and that he would never see again. So he adapted.
He learned how to do simple household tasks and run errands by himself. And he started to train again for the sport he began as a child.
Every morning, he takes a two-kilometre (one-mile), hour-long jog with a guide who runs alongside to prevent Ramathan from hurting himself. He then heads to the gym for weight-lifting and training.
"You find other blind people sad at home. I say to them, you have to move. If you stay like that, you could bring more sickness on your body," Ramathan says.
Wrapping protective gauze around his hands, he explains how he has fought in over 15 matches since he resumed boxing. He is undefeated, he boasts.
Behind him, headgear and gloves clutter wooden benches. Massive punching bags hang from an exposed roof, as sunlight beams on a circle of boxers exercising.
One of the boxers, 25-year old Robert Sembooze, says he was wary of entering the ring with Ramathan for a blindfolded match.
"Boxers fear to compete against him blindfolded because Bashir can sense faster than others and is very sharp," Semboze says.
"If there were more blind boxers, he could be a champion."
Others praise Ramathan's agile movements and fine-tuned reflexes.
Ramathan admits boxing is more difficult without sight, but says he has learned how to "see" with his ears.
In matches, he listens for the breathing and the footsteps of the other boxer to guide his own actions. When the floor is too padded to allow noise, a coach stands outside of the ring to shout directions to both blindfolded boxers.
His coach, Hassan Khalia, 45, attributes Ramathan's skill to his talent for listening. Khalia says that he now uses words, instead of demonstrations, to practice moves with the boxer.
"Before he became blind he was a boxer -- I knew being blind would not hurt him," he says. "He's still one of the best."
Walking to the bench press, Ramathan laughs when told of other boxers' trepidation about fighting him.
"They've realised that I am tough. They thought they could just box me around."
He aspires to be a contestant in this year's Paralympics, but lacks a sponsor. A builder before he became blind, he says he has been forced to rely on his mosque for sustenance.
Boxing is what helps him forget his disability.
"There are no differences here, we are all the same," he says, gesturing around the lively club.
"Boxing makes me feel more and more normal."
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