Sprinter who lived rough in London hoping to resume career

LONDON (AP) Already orphaned by Sierra Leone’s civil war when his adopted mother was killed by Ebola, Jimmy Thoronka felt he had nothing to return home to after competing at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games.

Only possible death.

So the 20-year-old sprinter headed south from Scotland’s biggest city to London in August, and a life sleeping on the streets. He gave up hope of running again. Survival was about begging for money to eat. Occasionally, Thoronka’s thoughts would become darker when he bought packets of paracetamol.

”I was here homeless, with no place to sleep,” Thoronka said in a pooled interview. ”When I got a pound I went to the chips shop. That’s how I was living, so it was really bad for me. Some days I thought about killing myself.”

Back in West Africa, Thoronka believes he has no family still alive. His parents are missing, feared dead, following the war, and his adopted mother is believed to have been killed by Ebola. More than 3,300 people have died from Ebola in Sierra Leone, with nearly 11,000 cases over the past year in the country where transmission remains the highest in the world.

”I decided not to go back because I am not going to make it out alive if I get back,” Thoronka said. ”So rather I die here than go to die in Sierra Leone.”

Despite seeming to have an athletics career in front of him, racing again seemed to be out of the question for the sprinter who competed in the 4×100-meter relay in Glasgow.

”I want to be one of the fastest in the world,” he said. ”So when all this did happen to me I thought that I wasn’t going to be fast again. I wasn’t going to be doing sprinting again.

”So I said, `That is the end of me.’ So this is when I tried to take a lot of paracetamol, like four or five paracetamol. So when I take like four or five I feel dizzy in my head, in my body, my kidneys are feeling some different way.”

But Thoronka survived and, since his plight was revealed last week, donations have been flooding into fundraising websites.

”When I heard people are coming out to help me, support me to continue my athletics career here … I felt excited,” he said. ”If I start my training here, I would be one of the happiest persons in the world.”

But while dreaming of taking to the track again, Thoronka faces a legal battle. He was arrested last week for overstaying his visa after his story was first reported. Now he wants permission to stay in Britain, and has been released into temporary government accommodation while seeking asylum.

Rob Harris can be followed at www.twitter.com/RobHarris