Jimmy Thoronka was one of Sierra Leone’s athletes at last summer’s Commonwealth Games in Britain but did not return afterwards after he heard news that his family had perished from Ebola.
The relay athlete refused to go back after the games due to his fears for his mental and physical health.
“I want to stay here. Nobody [would] look after me. No one persecuted me, my problem is I don’t have a family there. The person that would help me has passed [due to] Ebola. If I go back, I would not be able to make it, or I would kill myself because I would not proceed with my dream,” he said.
During winter, Thoronka slept under harsh conditions in the park, and sometimes he spent nights hopping from bus to bus till daybreak. He jogged to keep warm and kept fit by using a local gym.
Now, he says he wants to resume training and become one of the fastest sprinters in the world.
An official police spokesman said that his mother, Jelikatu Kargbo, who worked as a nurse in the police service, died last summer at the Rokupa government hospital in Freetown. Even though she was displaying signs of Ebola, it was uncertain that was the actual cause of her death as at the time of her death there were no testing or treatment centres for Ebola in Freetown.
[youtube id=”Pn4AMsC5Jtw” mode=”normal”]
But why didn’t he leave for Sierra Leone immediately after the Games? The athlete said that there weren’t any flights after the Games so he and his team-mates scattered in different directions. He was unfortunate as his bag containing his money and passport were stolen.
His visa expired last September and he has been fearful of approaching the police in case they locked him up. He decided to brave the streets.
Since his story first broke on The Guardian, he has been inundated with offers of help from citizens ready to provide items ranging from food and clothes to money and accommodation. A Cambridge University PhD student, Richard Dent, even set up a gofundme campaign for Thoronka which raised more than £20,000 in the space of two days.
Thoronka was arrested in south London last Friday on suspicion of using or dealing drugs which he denied.
Thoronka has now claimed asylum and was released to temporary Home Office accommodation. He has also become the subject of considerable media attention as several media outlets are seeking to interview him.