You could say Tameru Zegeye’s life didn’t start off on the right foot.
When his father was preparing for marriage to another woman, his then 16-year old mother worked as a servant for his grandfather. The accidental pregnancy went unnoticed and his father was married five months later. Tameru was born with deformed legs and both feet ineffective stumps turned inwards. His mother abandoned him after three months in the care of his grandfather.
You could say Tameru Zegeye’s life didn’t start off on any feet.
Tameru was born in 1982 in a hut located 60 kilometers from the celebrated city of Lalibela in the northern highlands of Ethiopia. His mother saw his legs and buried the baby in a pile of horse manure.
“When I was born my mother said I was cursed and carried the devil,” he explains. “My grandfather saved my life. He said every human had the right to a life.”
Unable to walk, Tameru began using his hands for mobility at a very early age. Enrolled as a deacon in Ethiopian Orthodox priest school, Tameru went to and from many villages crawling “like a snake” and walking on his hands. At 12 years old, Tameru traveled for various days as far as 100 kilometers risking his life in the rough climate of the Ethiopian mountains.
At the age of 15, Tameru arrived to Lalibela where he shined shoes and begged for money. An American doctor visiting Lalibela’s churches found Tameru sliding across the floor of one of the churches. He recognized Tameru’s deformity as something that shouldn’t prevent him from walking and sent him to Addis Ababa for surgery.
“I had never been on an airplane. I crawled up the stairs into my seat and asked the flight attendant if she could open my window.”
A week later, he walked out of the hospital in two casts on crutches.
New Feet, New Life
Tameru started the first grade in Addis Ababa as a 17 year old. He would often entertain the elementary school children with his gift for walking on his hands. When he realized he could amuse people in this way, he began practicing walking on the crutches in the same way he walked on his hands.
With incredible strength, balance and concentration, Tameru has spent the better part of the last ten years developing this unique ability. Balancing his body inverted on the crutches, Tameru can move up and down stairs as well as long distances. In 2009, Ethiopian state television showcased Tameru’s life and struggle to the entire country highlighting how one man has turned his disability into an advantage.
Now Tameru has set his sights on another goal: to teach his skills to other disabled and able body people in Addis Ababa, to be known worldwide for his strong spirit and quite incredible stunt skills, to travel the world, and to make a livelihood from what he does. The immediate plan is to introduce his great zest for life despite his hardships to the whole world and gather support for his cause.
The concept of adversity is foreign to Tameru. The word has no place in his vocabulary just as a caged animal knows no freedom.
“This is how I walk and it’s normal for me. I am evolution.” Tameru Zegeye
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