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From tragedy to Paralympic triumph

UAE’s paralympic golden boy targeting more glory at Rio 2016 after shooting success in London

  • Abdullah Sultan Al Aryani arrives at Dubai International Airport after winning a gold medal in the 2012 ParalyImage Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News
  • Abdullah Al AryaniImage Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News
Gulf News

Dubai: On a fateful day in January 2001, Abdullah Sultan Al Aryani’s life turned upside down. Returning from a hunting trip, his car went off the road and crashed leaving Al Aryani unconscious. He was rushed to Al Tawaam Hospital and, a day later, he heard the most dreaded news from the doctor: “You will have to live with the lower half of your body paralysed.”

Life had been treating Al Aryani well until that terrible morning. He was a Captain in the UAE Military awaiting promotion as Major.

He had represented the UAE in rifle shooting at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games with every possibility of qualifying to the next Games in Sydney.

And then fate intervened and Al Aryani was left to ponder what might have been.

“At first I could not believe that such a thing had happened to me. Everything had been so good in my life until then. A small error in not checking the tyre pressure of the car left me with an injury that I found so difficult to come to terms with,” Al Aryani said.

Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, was the first to respond to Al Aryani’s plight as he had his personal aeroplane transport him to Germany for the best possible treatment. One-and-a-half-years later the shooter was back in the UAE barely doing anything, but with plenty of time to reflect on his life and the tragic turn of events.

It was at this juncture that his friend Mohammad Khalil Al Hammadi came across information on the internet about disabled shooters participating in various competitions around the globe.

“He urged me to give it a try. I was convinced that I could turn my attention to shooting for the disabled. It was like a new lease of life,” the UAE shooter said.

There followed months of hard training and adapting to a completely new world of shooting.

Al Aryani truly put his heart and soul into his new pursuit and slowly the answers to his question “Why me?” started to become clear. “I suddenly saw that I could contribute to my sport as a disabled athlete. It was a brand-new start for me. I was an accomplished able-bodied shooter and now I could carry on this experience into a new field altogether,” he said.

From then on there was no turning back for Al Aryani. His first event as a disabled shooter turned out to be a gold medal at the Asia-Pacific Shooting Championships in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in November 2006.

“Suddenly, everything seemed possible for me. But, even more importantly, I started believing in a new purpose for my existence. I knew that God had a plan for me and it lay in me continuing with shooting with the same amount of dedication and passion I had as an able-bodied shooter,” Al Aryani recalled.

About two weeks back, the shooter from the Al Ain Disabled Club made the UAE proud as he shot his way to a gold medal in the mixed R6-50m rifle prone event at the 2012 Paralympic Games in London.

“The gold medal is only the start of my quest. I think I have overcome my biggest challenge in accepting my condition and fate. I know I can win many more gold medals for my country,” he said.

“From now on, I have nothing but Rio de Janeiro on my mind. I want gold and I know I can do it for my country. There was a purpose in me being in this state and I am happy to achieve my destiny from a wheelchair.”