The Special Olympics UAE team, made up of 141 competitors, at a training camp in Al Ain ahead of Special Olympics IX Mena Games. The Games will see over 1,000 athletes from across the world descend upon Abu Dhabi for the world’s biggest humanitarian sporting event. Image Credit: Organiser

Abu Dhabi: Starting today (Wednesday), UAE will be opening their doors to over 1,000 ably-challenged athletes from 31 countries who will take part in the Special Olympics Mena Games.

With the torch relay starting from the Shaikh Zayed Grand Mosque and going across all Emirates, these sportspersons will look to erase the isolation and stigma they face and send a strong message that no physical hurdle can steal their spirit, perseverance and courage. Over the next 10 days, stories of tremendous grit and determination will unfold both on and off the field.

UAE have fielded 141 athletes taking part in 15 off the 16 disciplines. One of them is Dubai-based Mohammad Al Tajer, who will be competing in the equestrian event. Al Tajer just can’t wait to get going and was confident of impressing in front of home fans.

“I’m fully prepared to take part in the in regional Games, my team and I have been training regularly for the games. Even we are not preparing for a competition we train twice a week,” said Al Tajer adding that the two-week camp ahead of the event has made him cent per cent ready for the challenge.

Journey of the torch

Abu Dhabi will witness a memorable sporting event today when the special Olympics MENA Games 2018 Torch Run takes place through the city. More than 1000 athletes from 31 countries will take part in the event from March 14-22.

Over 1,000 athletes from 32 countries will compete in 16 different sports.

Best efforts

“We have started a training camp recently and those daily training sessions were ideal for the preparation,” revealed Al Tajer, who was looking forward to the support from the home fans and his family to go all the way to glory.

“I want to give my best effort each time I compete so I can make my country, my leaders, and specially my mum proud. I competed in a lot of Special Olympics games so have the experience,” said Al Tajer, who in his first appearance in a Special Olympics World meet in China had won a silver at the age of 10. He has also competed in the World Games in Athens, where he bagged gold and silver.

 We have a good side and all have worked really hard. Everyone is looking forward to do well especially, because it is in our backyard.”

 - Butti Al Shezawi » Basketball player 

“My mother was the first person to encourage me to take up the sport and with the help of trainers and coaches I learnt how to do my best to improve my skills. I was just 10 then and didn’t know much about the sport. But when I first saw the horses I fell in love with them. It was the same year when I competed in the Special Olympics in China.”

Butti Al Shezawi is another player who will be looking to impress in the team basketball event.

“There will be some strong teams coming in and so we will have to be at the top of our game. We have a good side and all have worked really hard. Everyone is looking forward to do well especially, because it is in our backyard,” said Al Shezawi, who wanted to make the most of this event with UAE all set to host the Special Olympics World Games next year.

“With World Games next year, we have to make the most of this event. That challenge will be even tougher and all our preparations are keeping that in mind,” said the 31-year-old, who has participated in many previous regional and world games including the 2018 NBA all-star game.