When George Wyndham was departing for the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games from Freetown, he left without any celebration associated with sportsmen but on getting to Brazil, he started grabbing headline with his inspiring story, which has gone viral on social media.

As the only flagbearer from the West African country, George Wyndham was not deterred by the challenges he has been facing since making up his mind to embrace table tennis as a polio victim.

For the 26-year-old table tennis star competing in Brazil is beyond winning medal but inspiring more disable athletes as well changing the perception of many people about disability.

George Wyndham looks at his life in the Athletes’ Village in Rio and is surprised at the sheer contrast with his life back home in Sierra Leone where his only home is an office in the national stadium.

Struggling to support himself, George Wyndham relies on the National Paralympic Committee for his accommodation.

Narrating his story to the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) website, Wyndham hopes he can change the perception of people with impairments.

At the Games Village in Rio, he has accessible accommodation, his own bedroom, a fitness centre and a massive dining hall but in Sierra Leone, Wyndham lives in his training facility.

“Now I am in Brazil living the biggest life,” Wyndham said. “But when I go home to my country, I am a sufferer. With all that I am doing, with all my achievements, you couldn’t believe I am staying in one of the offices in the stadium.”

Despite targeting a quarterfinal berth, Wyndham believes his ambitions stretch beyond athletics performance. “I really want to be the man who can change sports in my country,” he said. “My dream is to see a delegation of 30 or 40 athletes going to a Games from Sierra Leone. I want more facilities and more equipment to incorporate other people with impairments in Sierra Leone.”

After contracting polio at tender age, Wyndham embraced para sports at 11 when he started with athletics, but after watching people playing table tennis he developed interest in the sport.

But despite the passion for table tennis, his interest began to wane after considering that he could not afford to buy the wheelchair. “I said no, I cannot move like how these guys are moving,” he said.

But on returning home from school, he discovered that one of the table tennis coaches has come to convince her mother to allow him take to the sport. Wyndham gave in and grew to like to sport. “I became so interested in the game that I started to skip school to come and train,” Wyndham said.

Since taking to the sports, his major medals include two bronzes, one each from the 2015 and 2013 African Championships while he has struggled to compete internationally.

Wyndham received a wild card to compete at the 2014 International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) Para Table Tennis World Championships in Beijing, China. But he could not go because of the Ebola crisis in Sierra Leone. Again in 2015, he was invited to the Lignano Master Open, one of the biggest international tournaments. But he could not obtain a visa to travel to Italy. “I came back home and said ‘wow, this is very challenging’. The World Championships were gone. The Italy Master Open – gone,” he said.

“I think my absence at the World Championships motivated me. So I tried harder because I knew one day I would [have the potential] to go to another World Championships or Paralympics,” he said.

Rio 2016 was not on his plan but a rare opportunity of a lifetime came his way when he received a bipartite slot.

In Brazil, he sees the diversity of impairments and athletics accomplishments and it is something George Wyndham wishes people in his home country could witness.

“Ninety-nine per cent of people with impairments in Sierra Leone depend on street begging,” he said. “So if they take their time from training, then they lose the money that they could earn from begging.”

As the only Sierra Leonean athlete in Rio, George Wyndham believes it is a start of good thing to come.

“I’m really trying to make a difference in Sierra Leone,” he said. “I’m really trying to open the minds of the government and those thinking disabled people can do nothing,” George Wyndham said.