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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 20 March 2019

The Special Olympics is an opportunity for people of determination to show the world what we can do

The effects of this international event will be huge and help to build a future in which people of all abilities can come together

In two days, the Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019 gets under way. As one of the 7,500 athletes that will be participating, I simply cannot wait.

Every night when I have gone to sleep, I have dreamt of this event, knowing that in just a few days’ time, it will become a reality when I represent the UAE on home soil.

I have called the UAE my home for 13 years now and I can see how positive the hosting of the World Games has been for people of determination across the country.

It is also a brilliant opportunity for people from all over the world to visit the UAE and experience what an amazing city Abu Dhabi is. There has been a movement for inclusion across the country and it is brilliant to see how much the government is supporting the integration and creation of opportunities for people of determination.

Previously, I lived in my homeland, South Africa, and in Oman. Although I have loved living in both, it will indeed be a proud moment for me to wear the UAE national colours when I compete in the tennis competitions in at the Games.

Sport runs in my family. My dad and brother are both keen golfers and my sister has had the honour of playing for the UAE national netball Team. It was only a matter of time before I got involved.

Picking up a racket and taking to the court is something I have been doing for six years now. I am hugely passionate about sport, and particularly tennis, because it is something that I love playing and it keeps me healthy and active.

Zumba is another important hobby of mine and I am a certified instructor. It was difficult at the beginning, but I quickly got the hang of the dance moves and I now hold classes of my own. I encourage everyone to join my class. It is so much fun.

The Special Olympics World Games will be by far the biggest event that I will ever take part in, so I have been preparing a lot for it. I recently finished a two-day training camp with the UAE tennis national team, which was great. I have continued to practice every day to ensure I have the best possible chance of winning a medal.

My goal is the same as that of thousands of other athletes who will be competing in the Games – to be on the podium wearing a gold medal

My goal is the same as that of thousands of other athletes who will be competing in the Games – to be on the top of the podium wearing a gold medal around my neck. I really want to win, as that would be the best achievement in my life. It would be an awesome feeling to be a world tennis champion at the Games. I’ve dreamt of being famous, so it would be a dream come true if a gold tennis medal helps me achieve that.

I have made a lot of people, particularly my family, very proud, and I’m certain that every single other athlete of determination throughout our journey at the Games will do too.

The Special Olympics World Games will not only be a platform for me to make friends with the thousands of athletes who have travelled to the UAE, but also an opportunity to show the entire globe that people of determination have the talent and skills to achieve their objectives.

As a participating athlete, I want to help spread that message. One of the main factors that has kept me going is sheer willpower. I absolutely love playing tennis as it allows me to be myself. In everyday life, you always have to believe in yourself. My motto is never give up. That’s why I have been playing tennis for so long. I constantly push myself as a player.

I hope that people of determination who are watching at the venues or on TV can follow in my footsteps and be inspired to get involved with a Special Olympics programme or to just take up a sport.

The UAE has demonstrated in the build-up to the Games that it is committed to creating an inclusive and tolerant society. I have no doubts about the positive impact this event will have on the UAE and beyond. The effects will be huge and it will allow people of all abilities to come together and interact, whether it’s in sports or at work.

I would like to thank everyone who is planning to attend the World Games and for everyone who has put in a lot of hard work to make this happen. It means the world to all of the athletes. This is my first time being a part of a Special Olympics World Games and that adds to the excitement. For sure, this will be a great experience and one that I will cherish for the rest of my life.

Clari Lehmkuhl is a tennis player, who will represent the UAE national team at the Special ­Olympics World Games in Abu Dhabi

Updated: March 13, 2019 09:23 AM

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