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Torch-bearers Daniel Fundora and Yasser Al Zaabi at the closing ceremony of the Host Town Programme at Global Village on Sunday before the Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi. Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

Dubai: No matter what disability you have, you can conquer anything you want if you put your mind to it with hard work and dedication.

This was the message that Daniel Fundora, a Special Olympics athlete from the US, had to offer to more than 4,000 Special Olympics World Games 2019 guests from 51 nations who attended a cultural festival at Dubai’s Global Village on Sunday.

Fundora was one of the ‘Guardians of the Flame’ torch runners who carried the Flame of Hope of the Special Olympics during the final leg of the Law Enforcement Torch Run in Dubai.

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Shaikh Ahmad attends the closing ceremony of the Host Town Programme along with other officials on Sunday. Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

An athlete, coach and ambassador of Special Olympics, Fundora has been actively participating in the Special Olympics for 17 years.

“Before Special Olympics, I was diagnosed with Autism … But the truth is disability does not define who I am and disability is not in my vocabulary,” Fundora said to the loud applause of fellow athletes.

He narrated how Special Olympics changed his life for many reasons and gave him a second chance to do what he could not do during his high school days.

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Participants let their hair down at the closing ceremony of the Host Town Programme on Sunday at the Global Village. Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

Competing in Special Olympics since he was 11, Fundora’s first sport was bowling. But now he competes in flag football, basketball, softball, golf, stand-up paddle boarding and soccer. He won his first gold medal at the state level in softball, and last year, he won gold in stand up paddle board at the USA Games in Seattle. He is also a health messenger for Special Olympics.

Fundora said he just had three words for the athletes — go, touch one, meaning go, get the first prize.

Host Town Programme

Yasser Al Zaabi, another torch bearer representing the UAE, along with Fundora, led the 100-strong Guardians of the Flame comprising law enforcement officers and Special Olympics athletes to the main amphitheatre of the Global Village during the closing ceremony of Dubai’s Host Town Programme.

Shaikh Ahmad Bin Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, chairman of the National Olympic Committee, attended the event organised by the Executive Council of Dubai.

Abdullah Al Basti, secretary general of the Dubai Executive Council, welcomed the gathering, saying it offered a great opportunity for the UAE to showcase its legacy of inclusion.

The UAE has always been receptive of all cultures and is committed to remain an inclusive society regardless of the ability of the people, he pointed out.

Mariam Al Obaid, adviser, policy and strategy — social development at the General Secretariat of the Executive Council, said Dubai had put together an elaborate programme to welcome the guests of the Special Olympics that will be held in Abu Dhabi and Dubai from March 14.

“The Host Town programme offers the opportunity for delegations to enjoy Emirati hospitality, customs and traditions. It also creates public awareness of intellectual disabilities and promotes the Special Olympics spirit all over the UAE.”

As part of the largest cultural exchange programme ever conducted in the Middle East and North Africa, Dubai hosted the athletes in Dubai Frame and Glow Garden at Zabeel Park and Dubai Parks and Resorts. They were also taken to 38 schools in Dubai.

Dubai has a comprehensive emergency response plan and has the involvement of 14 government entities, 400 supervisors, ushers and volunteers, 100 medical staff and 33 first respondents to assist the Special Olympics guests.

Dubai’s involvement in the Special Olympics 2019 is aligned with the “My Community ... A City for Everyone” initiative that aims at transforming Dubai into an inclusive and barrier-free society that promotes and protects the rights of the people of determination — in line with the Dubai Disability Strategy 2020 goals. The athletes, their coaches, interpreters and volunteers were treated to various cultural programmes followed by a special fireworks display. An inclusive art gallery showcasing paintings and other art works by people of determination also opened in Global Village as part of the event.