Get to know them: MENA athletes in IX Special Olympics Regional Games



Wed, 14 Mar 2018 - 06:57 GMT


Wed, 14 Mar 2018 - 06:57 GMT

Photo compiled by Egypt Today

Photo compiled by Egypt Today

Persons with intellectual disabilities are gradually granted a lot of their overdue rights and the public debate is gaining more momentum every day. Nevertheless, too many people are still holding tightly to false perceptions and stereotypes that are standing in the way of adequately including these, not different, but special individuals.

It is time to start a long-term transformation in our attitude toward these special individuals who deserve respect and admiration. This can only be achieved by getting to know them, training them and training ourselves, which is in the core mission of Special Olympics International (SOI).

As we are approaching the 9th regional Special Olympics Games, an event that takes place every two years to celebrate accomplished athletes with intellectual disabilities in the Middle East/North Africa (MENA) region, here are five inspirational stories of Arab athletes who will be taking part in the upcoming games.

Amr Hassan: Egyptian swimming, hockey and football champion

One of our inspirational champions who will be representing Egypt in the upcoming games, Amr Hassan has already scored several national and international medals in more than one sport, including swimming, hockey and, most recently, football.

Amr Hassan - Photo courtesy of Special Olympics MENA

Born and raised in challenging conditions, with an intellectual disability and in a family with modest financial capacities, Hassan is a great example of perseverance and accomplishment. Apart from his sports achievements, he has also finished his studies at a school of special education. And hHaving lost his father a year ago, he is currently the bread-winner for his family, taking on two jobs, – at a wax workshop in the mornings and a factory in the afternoons.

Although he knew nothing about swimming when he first started, Hassan immediately caught the eyes of his coach when he first joined Special Olympics training centers in affiliation with his school. Seeing his talent and perseverance, the coach gave him special attention until he learned the four different swimming styles, and he would even delegate Hassan to manage the practice and help his colleagues.

DSC_0193 Amr Hassan - Photo courtesy of Special Olympics MENA

In no time, Hassan was winning medals in all kinds of national games and would impress everyone who saw him. In his first regional games in 2004, he won four gold medals. He then went on to represent Egypt in China and the regional games in Dubai, always holding high the Egyptian flag, with a smile of pride and accomplishment.

Taking on another challenge, he started playing hockey and led his team to victory in the Special Olympics Winter Games in Idaho, scoring 13 out of 15 goals in the game against the U.S. team.

Given Hassan’s strong physical build and his talents, he was recently chosen to join the football team. He participated in the summer games in Greece and won the golden medal with his team. He is now getting ready for another win in Abu Dhabi.

DSC_0198 Amr Hassan - Photo courtesy of Special Olympics MENA

Lobna Masfr (Morocco): “They say I have an intellectual disability… But I win medals.”

“They say I have an intellectual disability and I cannot see, but I have hands, ears, legs and a nose, and I win medals by participating in Special Olympics games,” says Lobna Masfr, another inspirational champion getting ready to participate in the regional games.

Masfr remembers how she had to go from school to school, then to workshops and music centers, but never felt bad or not at ease, as she always knew she was learning something new, from cooking to handicrafts, piano and even massage.

لبنى مسفر
Lobna Msfr - Photo courtesy of Special Olympics MENA

“My mom taught me to swim, play guitar and do math… Yes, I have a disability, but it doesn’t stop me and I can do a lot of things,” she recounts.

An international champion, Masfr has won many medals in regional and world games, including two silver medals that she won in 1995 in the world summer games, a golden medal in 1997 and more.

She also received recognition from King Mohammed VI, the Kingof Morocco as an international champion and great athlete.

“Everything around me is gloomy, but in my imagination I know all colors and I can see the beauty around me. I could see once, before I went blind at 20 years old,” Masfr says.

Masfr has participated in several exhibitions for handicrafts, she helps out in music workshops for persons with intellectual disabilities, and she has a diploma in massage… and a lot of clients.

Mohamed Khair Allah aims high at MENA games: a success story from Baghdad, Iraq

Growing up in Baghdad, Iraq, Mohamed Khair Allah had to deal with isolation and harsh stigma that often comes with having a visible intellectual disability. “I am different and I like being who I am and want people to accept this,” Khair Allah says.

Mohamed Kheir Allah- Iraq
Mohamed Kheir Allah - Photo courtesy of Special Olympics MENA

Having joined Special Olympics in 2001, Khair Allah started a new lifestyle. Following a new routine, he started to consume less calories and lose weight (losing about 9 kilograms). Soon he was able to participate in many Special Olympics competitions.

“Special Olympics gave me the chance to develop more confidence, and I am extremely fortunate, as I proudly represent my home country on the international scale,” he says proudly.

Super excited about the opportunity to be part of the Iraqi delegation to the regional games, Mohamed is training very hard to reach his best performance.

In addition to being an extraordinary swimming champion, Khair Allah also leads an independent social life and has a supportive wife with whom he is experiencing joy and happiness.

“I hope to bring home another gold medal to make my wife full of pride of my success. She deserves it, as she has never shown anything but support and motivation,” he adds.

Rabah Kino (Lebanon): An all-time champion, in one sport or another

A multisport athlete, Rabah Kino from Lebanon has excelled at both summer sports, including roller-skating and winter sports, mainly specializing in alpine skiing.

While training for the 2013 World Winter Games, Rabah fell hard and was badly injured. Doctors told him that he’d never ski again, which was tragic news, because for Kino, skiing was life.

However, Special Olympics coaches and volunteers, as well as his supportive family, helped Kino find new hope with a new sport.

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Rabah Kino - Photo courtesy Special Olympics MENA

Kino, who is now in his forties, started a new chapter in his life taking on open swimming. He started getting good, very good; and in no time, he joined Lebanon’s swim team and took part in the 2015 World Games in Los Angeles.

This March, Keno will be competing with talented swimmers from all across the Middle East and North Africa at the 2018 IX Special Olympics MENA Regional Games in Abu Dhabi.And the minute he returns from the 2018 MENA Games, he'll be looking ahead to the 2019 World Games.

Khadija Zein Al Abdeen: Mauritania’s first female tennis athlete in SO games

Twenty-three- year old Khadija Zein Al Abdeen joined Special Olympics Mauritania in 2006. Due to her remarkable performances and achievements, she was then selected to become a board member of Special Olympics Mauritania, where her role is to detect and understand the challenges and hopes of her fellow athletes and bring it all to the table of the board to discuss.

According to Zein Al Abdeen, her 12-year history with Special Olympics has definitely had a great impact on her life, changing her vision to life and expanding her friendships network. She even beats her friends without intellectual disabilities in some matches, Zein Al Abdeen feels they have accepted her, as they are now keen to mingle and chat with her a lot, she says.

Taking part as a table tennis player in IX MENA Regional Games in Abu Dhabi, Zein Al Abdeen is the first female participant from her country to compete in this sport, whether in the regional or world Games. Since table tennis games were restricted to male athletes in her country, Khadija believes her participation this year to be an unprecedented change in the Mauritanian society towards Special Olympics female athletes.

The Special Olympics Middle East/North Africa Regional Games are set to take place in Abu Dhabi between March 14 and 22. A total of 1,000 athletes from 32 Countries will be competing in 16 different Kind of sports including athletics, swimming, cycling, table tennis and basketball.

Athletes stories shared with Egypt Today by Special Olympics MENA



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