In 1972, Egypt sent the first Arab athlete to compete in the Paralympic Games. Since then, Arab Paralympic athletes have been competing and succeeding.
The Paralympics began in 1948 when a group of British World War II veterans with spinal injuries competed in a sporting competition. This marked the birth of the Paralympics, the Olympics’ counterpart for athletes with disabilities.
The Paralympics have grown to become one of the largest international sporting events and the competition is just as intense as in the Olympics. However, as far as social media goes, disabled athletes are mainly illustrated by pictures on racing tracks with “what’s your excuse?” written on the top. While feeling bad about our life choices, we often forget to think of the athletes in these pictures and the obstacles they have overcome to achieve what many consider impossible.
With the Rio 2016 Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games coming up in a few months, here are five Arab Paralympic athletes who have beat the odds and made us proud:
1. Fatma Omar
This Egyptian powerlifter is one tough act to follow. Since Sydney’s Summer Paralympics in 2000, Omar has competed and ranked first place in every Paralympic event, earning a total of four consecutive gold medals. During her participation in the 2012 London Summer Paralympics, the powerlifter set a new world record by lifting 142 kg. Earlier this year, Omar won the World Weightlifting Championship in Dubai, as well as the World Weightlifting Cup for Disabled Athletes in Malaysia, where she set a new international record. She is thus ranked first in her weight class by the International Paralympics Committee. Due to her incredible performance in Malaysia, Omar is heading to Rio in hopes of a fifth gold medal and a new world record.
2. Osama Alshanqiti
Though Alshanqiti had already been a triple and long-jump athlete when he injured his eye in an accident in 2000, he did not begin his Paralympics career until 2006. During his first Paralympic participation in 2008, Alshanqiti won Saudi Arabia’s first – and currently the only – gold Paralympic or Olympic medal with a 15.37 meter triple jump that set a world record yet to be broken. He also brought home a silver medal from Beijing for the long jump event. The champion told Al Arabiya that he dedicates the gold medal to his nation, hoping it pushes him towards further achievements.
3. Mohammed Khamis Khalaf
This powerlifter’s extraordinary mindset led him to earn the United Arab Emirate's first golden Paralympic medal in Athens in 2004. Four years later, Khalaf sought his second medal as he headed to Beijing, where he managed to win a silver medal despite an injured elbow. The champion suffers from leg paralysis caused by polio he was diagnosed with as a child. He spent the first ten years of his life studying at home due to his family’s fear of how society would deal with his condition. In college, he attended the Dubai Club for Special Sports out of sheer curiosity about a handicap’s capabilities. Khalaf states, “The day I tried it out, I got to see for the first time that a handicapped person doesn’t just do sports for fun. He can actually train hard and compete.”
4. Rauoa Tlili
Currently the holder of the discus throw world record for women with short stature, this Tunisian athlete has won two gold and two silver Paralympic medals. She competed in the Beijing Paralympics in 2008 and the London Paralympics in 2012, landing a gold medal for the shot put event and a silver medal for the discus throw in each of the two games. Tlili now has her eyes on Rio, aiming to finally seize a win for the discus throw.
5. Maher Bouallegue
This Tunisian track and field athlete is an African record holder and a seven-time Paralympic medalist who has only competed in the Paralympic Games twice. His first participation was in the 2000 Sydney Summer Paralympics when he brought home three gold medals after remaining undefeated in the 800 meter, 1500 meter, and 5000 meter races for the visually impaired category. Seeking to defend his titles and win the 10000 meter race, Bouallegue returned to the games in 2004 and successfully brought home three gold medals, just missing out on the 800 meter title after finishing in second place.