Abu Dhabi: The Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019 will welcome a record-breaking number of female athletes to participate in the Games.

Almost 40 per cent of the athletes competing in the World Games will be women, with over 2,800 females due to take to the playing field. The announcement marks Friday’s International Women’s Day 2019 — an international awareness day that celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women across the globe.

412 of the female athletes showcasing their sports skills to the world will be from the Mena region. Of those 412, 55 are Unified Partners who are looking forward to playing side-by-side with their teammates of determination. 154 female coaches from the Mena region will also attend the Games.

The World Games will also play host to the first-ever female athletes from Saudi Arabia, with 14 female athletes due to land in the UAE in the next few days.

Of the 2,800 female athletes participating in the Games, several have truly inspiring stories. One of those is Khadija Zen Al Abdeen, from Mauritania, who will be going for gold in less than one week. Khadija is the first female table tennis player and first female Special Olympics Mauritania athlete sent to compete outside her home country in any Regional or World Games.

Josee Seguin, who is representing Special Olympics Canada, was previously told she would ‘always be in delicate health’ but is now among a growing number of female powerlifters competing in Special Olympics — she can dead lift an impressive 295 pounds and bench-press 137.

Hamda Al Hosani, 29, will be representing the UAE on home soil at the Games, she loves running so much that she says her legs hurt when she is not on the track. Hamda has 16 Special Olympics medals to her name and participated in the IX Mena Games last year. Changing attitudes is what drives her, she says: “In the Middle East, people look at intellectual disabilities as a bad thing, but I want to change that negative perception. I’m a very active person; I don’t like sitting still. That’s why I love running. If I sit down for a long period of time I feel like my legs are hurting because I just want to run.” Hamda hopes that with her home country of UAE hosting the games, more UAE children and adults will be motivated to join Special Olympics and find a sport they enjoy.

Behind the scenes, a number of successful Emirati women continue to drive the Games and the Special Olympics movement forward. Females also make up more than half of the Local Organising Committee’s staff (54 per cent) — showcasing the importance of the role of women in the success of the Games.

Tala Al Ramahi, chief strategy officer at Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019, says: “This year’s International Women’s Day is themed around balance and we could not pay better homage to this than by hosting a World Games with the highest number of female athletes to ever compete.

“These are the women who are going to inspire and change the world and I am looking forward to standing shoulder-to-shoulder with them and showing the world that there are no ‘disabilities’ for athletes of determination — just sheer determination, talent and skill.”