Athletes carry the Special Olympics torch during a run at the Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi. Image Credit: Abdul Rahman/Gulf News

Abu Dhabi: The symbol of Special Olympics — The Flame of Hope — was lit as the first ray of dawn fell on the spectacular Shaikh Zayed Grand Mosque on Wednesday.

With that began a journey of optimism for over 1,000 determined athletes, who have descended on the capital for the 2018 Special Olympics Mena Games, to showcase their talent, true spirit and determination to keep moving, battling all odds.

There wouldn’t have been a soul that was not touched on the path from where the torch had travelled. One could gauge the support pouring in from all quarters as people thronged the streets to cheer the torch bearers.

Athletes carrying the Special Olympic torch seen with Dr Sultan Al Jaber, Minister of State and CEO of Adnoc. Credit: Abdul Rahman/Gulf News

At the Adnoc headquarters at the Corniche, vociferous employees took a break from their hectic work, assembled in front of their building to welcome the members of the torch relay team, waving flags.

Some of the high-profile names from the sporting arena were also present to show their support to the people of determination.

determined athletes on the torch run

UAE’s veteran football Esmail Mattar, his teammate Ali Khaseif, Michelle Kwan, the most-decorated American figure skater, and Raha Moharrak, the first Saudi woman to climb Mount Everest, threw their weight behind the Games that would run until March 22.

They joined the torchbearers as they headed to the symbolic Emirates Palace before moving to the Louvre and finishing at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre.

While the flame will eventually be taking centre stage at the Adnec cauldron after the Games’ opening ceremony on Saturday evening, for Peter Wheeler, the pioneer behind such momentous occasions, the Games had already begun.

At the Adnoc headquarters, employees, assembled in front of their building to welcome the members of the torch relay team. Credit: Abdul Rahman/Gulf News

The CEO of Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019 had excitement writ all over him and couldn’t hold back his emotions, saying: “Every time you see a torch, it is special and especially when it is Special Olympics because it represents the flame of hope.”

Wheeler is well aware of the importance this event holds among the Special Olympics fraternity and the change that it could bring within the society.

33 nations’ athletes will take part in the Games

“Special Olympics is all about bringing hope to not only people with determination but everyone. It shows how a world can be more unified and more inclusive. Today is special because it means the Games are getting closer. All the excitement and the planning is coming together.”

Leading the organising committee, Wheeler acknowledged the support he has received from the host nation.

“A lot of enthusiasm we have had. Thousands of volunteers have signed up. All the venue have been built up and we are ready. More importantly, we have athletes from 33 nations coming in. We have athletes living in different part of Emirates as a part of the host-town programme. So, a lot of enthusiasm not only in Abu Dhabi but nationwide,” commented Wheeler, who is expecting a full house at the opening ceremony.

“It is going to be a packed opening ceremony. We have got the grand stand out in front of Adnec. This is part of Abu Dhabi 2019 preparatory series of events, so we are expecting 5,000 to 6,000 people at least. Just can’t wait to get the Games going.”