Meet Jalal BinThaneya, an Emirati special needs activist who recently attempted to set a new world record by walking across all seven emirates in just seven days. 

Although the record was not broken, BinThaneya braved the heat and the unpaved roads, completing the challenge in 14 days.  

BinThaneya, 30, has consistently and successfully raised awareness for countless people with special needs in the Arab world. His journey started in 2007 when he was a 20-year-old student at Middlesex University in Dubai. 

In 2009, he made an eyebrow-raising trip - a 600 km walk from Dubai to the desert of the Empty Quarter near Liwa, all to raise awareness for the Senses Centre, a UAE-based day care center which caters to children with special needs. 

His most popular journey, however, remains a 2,000 km walk from Abu Dhabi (UAE) to the province of Makkah (Saudi Arabia). Halfway through his mission, he was stopped on the outskirts of the city of Riyadh before being allowed to continue with the distinctive permission of then-governor of the capital, and a member of the prominent Saudi royal family, Sattam bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. 

At the time, BinThaneya's walk to Makkah, which took 47 days to complete, received the high praise and attention of Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai. As part of Team Samsung, Jalal also took part in the London 2012 Summer Olympics as a torch bearer. 

In his most recent journey, BinThaneya attempted to set a new world record by walking across all seven emirates in just seven days. 

We spoke with Jalal to find out what it is that drives this extraordinary young man to push himself to such extreme limits.

Tell us about yourself, and how you first started with this form of extreme sport?

"I started my journey to raise awareness for special needs people 10 years ago. As you know, back then there wasn't much being said about the subject of the special needs community in Dubai and the UAE, so I decided to set out on a 500 km journey across the seven emirates and talk about these challenges we face as a society. 

I wasn't very familiar with the terrain and geography of the UAE at the time. The journey helped me realize many things about myself and my life. 

I was 20 years old when I set out on the journey and the hardships I faced were obvious, from the days of preparations to the long lonely walks on the desert highway."

What is the greatest challenge you've faced so far and why?

"Dealing with different people was sometimes a great challenge as they were not aware of the time and preparation required for such an event. 

During the preparation over a decade ago, many companies and people laughed at what I was doing. 

However, if you have a look at the current mandates and all the CSR (corporate social responsibility) departments today in 2017, they now conduct the same activities, such as awareness campaigns, walks, and even corporate marathons. 

If we were to look back to 2006, I was one of the first individuals to conduct such campaigns for a meaningful cause and I continued to do so up until my recent crossing of the country from the Ghuwaifat border to the coast of Fujairah."

By pushing yourself to the limit, you heroically raise awareness for people with special needs; what do your friends and family say about it all?

"I don't see this aspect as heroic. I simply volunteered my time to raise awareness for special needs people and I feel that I contributed and began a movement that has been adopted by various organizations in Dubai and the UAE today. 

It is much more important to be innovative and to take the initiative as opposed to showing a heroic stance. There was the anticipation of planning and emotion that was put into the journeys that I undertook for the cause. 

Many of the journeys were firsts, such as crossing the UAE (this was done twice, once in 2007 and again in 2016 through 2017), walking to Makkah (a journey of 2000 km), and cycling across the Gulf (a first for an individual or person to cross the Arabian peninsula on a bicycle)."

What is the most rewarding part of going on such a challenging journey?

"Finishing them and coming out of the journey all in one piece. I would say that the two most dangerous journeys were the recent run across the UAE from Ghuwaifat to Fujairah (point to point) and 2013's cycling across the Gulf.

The other part of the journey is being able to talk about the organization I'm representing. This needs to be done continuously throughout the mission by engaging with the public through social media and involving traditional media. I believe this is a great way to educate the public about my journey and the work being done at various organizations that cater to individuals with special needs."

Do you think there is more that can be done throughout the Arab world to support individuals with special needs?

"I believe the answer is yes, and will always be yes, more can be done. You can always do better and if someone does something or starts a movement, you can always do better than they have done. 

If there is one thing I would like to say to people reading this, it would be that this isn't a competition but a realization in the sense that we can always do better, go farther and make an impact with the simplest of actions."

What are your plans for the future? Are you planning any more extraordinary journeys to raise awareness?

"My journeys to raise awareness for the special needs community came to an end during my final steps whilst crossing the UAE from point to point. I had put in an endeavor of effort for the past 10 years and I believe it is now time for me to close the page of this part of my life."