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Medal-winning UAE paralympians reveal secret of their success

Three of UAE’s leading athletes conduct workshop themed 'Going for Gold’

Image Credit: Atiq-Ur-Rehman/Gulf News
Shaikh Hamdan surprised paralympians Mohammad Khamis Khalaf, Abdullah Al Aryani and Sara Al Seenani by arriving midway through their workshop at the Dubai Health Forum.
Gulf News

Dubai: One of the major themes on the concluding day of Dubai Health Forum was of inclusion of differently abled people into the mainstream and use of technology to enable them better towards this integration.

Shaikh Hamdan Bin Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of the Dubai Executive Council, surprised three of UAE’s leading paralympians by arriving midway through their workshop on ‘Going for Gold’ to show his solidarity and lend a patient ear to their discussions.

The UAE had sent 18 paralympians to the Brazil Paralympics in 2016 who returned with seven medals — two golds, four silver and one bronze. Three of the medallists from the 2016 Rio Paralympics, Mohammad Khamis Khalaf who won UAE’s first gold medal in powerlifting, Abdullah Alaryani, who won three silvers in shooting and the UAE’s only woman to win a bronze in Paralympics, Sara Alseenani, discussed the challenges they faced at the forum.

Physically challenged moderator of the workshop Majid Abdullah AlUsaimi, told Gulf News: “The differently abled face a multi-layered challenge. One is their own disability — some are visually challenged, hearing impaired, suffer from cerebral palsy or are afflicted by polio. This is quite a physical challenge to surmount. The second and more debilitating challenge is the psychological one where the community reminds them of their disability and the psychological impact it has on them. This is the more difficult challenge and slowly as the community is turning more empathetic, the society has accessibility created for the physically challenged and more inclusive.”

The paralympians said they did not give up in the face of obstacles. “Willpower is what got me the gold medal,” said power lifter Khalaf who at 47 has won a string of medals for the UAE, including two at the Rio Paralympics. Al Aryani seconded that: “I feel those with disabilities are stronger as they have a keener urge to succeed.”

Aryani was an able-bodied police officer until an accident rendered him disabled.

The most heartening was the gutsy Alseenani, 23. A patient of cerebral palsy since birth, she has had to work hard to build strength in her upper body to be able to execute her master shot that won her the bronze in the Rio Paralympics making her the first UAE woman to achieve that feat. Looking radiant with confidence, Al Seenani told Gulf News: “Earlier I went to a special school, but when I was accepted in a public school I did not want their pity and wanted to prove to them that I was no less.”

Al Seenani who completed her course in Environment Health and Safety puts in two hours of training with her physical trainer after her studies and on many days tries to pack in two extra hours in the morning. “I am determined to win the gold medal and my advice to anyone to keep fit and be disciplined is to eat well, sleep early, have a dedicated workout time and be focussed on one’s goal,” she said.

Humaid Al Qutami, director-general of Dubai Health Authority, told Gulf News that he was overwhelmed by the response to the forum and the turnout of 2,000 international experts. “This is the first time we organised a health forum on this scale with more than seven categories that included design, technology, 3D printing, a centre for excellence, workshops of health and finance and a dialogue initiated on all these issues makes the community more receptive and aware and ties in very well with the Dubai Health Strategy 2021. It has given us a tremendous learning opportunity and the direct involvement of the Dubai Government has sent a firm message to the people about the priority that the health sector is accorded.”