ndian amputee footballer Panakkadan Muhammed Shafeeq waves the UAE flag after he climbed the Jebel Jais mountain by using crutches on Sunday
Panakkadan Muhammed Shafeeq waves the UAE flag after his hike up Jebel Jais Image Credit: Supplied

Ras Al Khaimah: India’s amputee footballer Panakkadan Muhammed Shafeeq walked all the way up the UAE’s highest mountain Jebel Jais using crutches on Sunday.

The 33-year-old, whose leg was amputated from above the knee following an accident in 2004, told Gulf News, that the rare feat has been dedicated to the UAE’s 51st National Day (December 2) and Dubai Fitness Challenge, the month-long annual fitness initiative launched by Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of The Executive Council of Dubai.

The 25km hike up Mountain Road was also to mark the International Day of Persons with Disability (IDPD) 2022 that falls on December 3, said Shafeeq.

The UN’s observance of the IDPD since 1992 aims to promote an understanding of disability issues and mobilise support for the dignity, rights and well-being of persons with disabilities. A Dubai resident for eight months, Shafeeq believes the UAE is the best example in following the motto of the day.

Shafeeq during his walk on Jebel Jais
Shafeeq covered 25km during his feat Image Credit: Supplied

“This country is really a role model in the way it supports the people of determination—right from the dignified term used to describe people with disabilities to all the infrastructure, special services and privileges provided to support them,” he said.

Shafeeq said it was his wish to contribute something to show his solidarity to the celebration of the country’s 51st National Day.

“I chose this particular day to do this special walk because [Sunday] is also the last day of the Dubai Fitness Challenge. I am a big fan of Sheikh Hamdan. He has done a lot for people of determination also.”

Community support

Shafeeq’s Jebel Jais expedition began at 6.30am from the base of the mountain. It was flagged off by Sheikh Mohammed bin Kayed Al Qasimi, chairman of Ras Al Khaimah Department of Economic Development, who also joined him during the walk for a while.

Shafeeq was accompanied by a group of leaders and volunteers of the Kerala Muslim Cultural Centre (KMCC) which offered him all the support. KMCC leaders Anwar Naha, Shamsudheen Bin Mohideen, Nissar Thalangara and Riyas Chelery led the group of around 30 people. The group was facilitated by Ras Al Khaimah Police and a mobile medical team provided by Aster DM Healthcare.

Shafeeq said he was preparing for the hike by walking for about 3 or 4km a day. He was not daunted by the 25km distance because he had already climbed the steep Wayanad Ghat, a mountain pass in Kerala’s Wayanad district last year to show his solidarity with the farmers’ protest in India.

Challenges and victory

“It was not easy, but I was determined to complete it and all these lovely people cheered me up,” Shafeeq said about his Sunday’s hike.

He said he switched between forearm crutches and underarm crutches to reduce the pain on his hands. On an average, it took him about 15 to 20 minutes to cover each kilometre. “I took short breaks after every one or two kilometres and walked again.”

Shafeeq said muscle cramps on his left leg and pain on both hands did not deter him from completing the mission. “I am thankful to all the support I got from the medical team and the KMCC people. I didn’t even bother about the temperature going up in the afternoon because of the exuberant spirit of support and solidarity I received,” he added.

When he reached the top viewing point of Jebel Jais around 2pm, Shafeeq was pleasantly surprised to see more than 100 people waiting to celebrate his victory.

“I was so happy to see many families and children waiting for me.”

Shafeeq was accorded a hero’s welcome by the Ras Al Khaimah unit of KMCC. The members and their families welcomed him with a banner congratulating him. They also arranged a special celebration including children’s traditional Emirati dance.

His story

Shafeeq was just out of school when a truck knocked him down and ran over his right leg, following which it had to be amputated above the knee. However, he was determined to face the challenges in life and be a role model. “We live in an era when a small cut in a finger makes many people so dejected. Students are depressed and end their lives when they get low marks. I wanted to show that we can live happily by overcoming all the odds.”

Shafeeq then started playing football and swimming again. “I became the state level amputee swimming champion last year. I have also got an award for the locomotor-disabled people from the state social justice department,” said Shafeeq.

After training for around five years as part of the para amputee football community, he became a national player. Though he had got an opportunity to represent India last year, that did not materialise due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, Shafeeq represented India in the West Asian Championship qualifying matches in Iran to secure a berth in the 2022 Amputee Football World Cup in Turkey. India didn’t make the cut in its first ever attempt, but Shafeeq is proud to have played for his country.

Falling in love with UAE

It was on his way back from Iran after the qualifiers that Shafeeq first came to the UAE. Visiting the Expo 2020 Dubai was a dream come true for him,

Shafeeq said, and he soon realised that the UAE is the place for him. “The school stationery shop that I was running back home had to be demolished to pave the way for a highway. I felt that the support that we, the people of determination, get here is unseen anywhere else and I wanted to build my future here.”

Iqbal Marconi, CEO of the Emirates Companies House (ECH) helped him with a visa, he said.

“I am getting a lot of love from this place and that is the reason I wanted to celebrate the UAE National Day in my own way. I would like to start working here and bring over my family too,” said the father of a five-year-old girl.

Getting a prosthetic leg and skydiving in Dubai are also on the wish list of this champion of determination.