x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Disabled athlete encourages others to reject limits

Chris Khouri was paralysed from the chest down two years ago. Yesterday, he completed the inaugural Tri Yas triathlon, a feat he hopes will be inspirational to others who face a limitation to overcome it.

Chris Khouri reacts after finishing the Yas Tri event at the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi.
Chris Khouri reacts after finishing the Yas Tri event at the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi.

ABU DHABI // A motorbike accident two years ago that left him paralysed from the chest down did not stop Chris Khouri from tackling the first Tri Yas triathlon at the Yas Marina Circuit yesterday.

The 38-year-old Lebanese-Dutchman pushed his wheelchair through the 10km run section and 40km dedicated to cycling - a teammate subbed in for the 1.5km swim - to finish in two-and-a-half hours.

"It's motivating to notice that I wasn't being overlapped by the same cyclists all the time because I know I was going about the same distance as them," he said after the race. "I thought I'd do the cycling [alone] in two hours and a half so I'm really happy and both races were very good."

Although the hill on the track made it harder, Mr Khouri said being in a wheelchair made him realise he could do more by pushing himself. Once on the track, he said, he felt like any other cyclist.

"It really went smooth, doing something physical gives you the impression that you're using mind over body and although I was a bit slower [than the rest], I was suddenly doing a physical activity," he said.

Mr Khouri had been exceptionally positive going into the race, said his wife Sylvia.

"I'm very proud of him," she said. "It's amazing, he's been looking forward to doing something like this for a very long time and he's done it, I could see he was relieved in the end."

Jasper Blake,the winner of Tri Yas, called Mr Khouri "unbelievable and incredible".

"Anytime I go to a race and I see there are guys doing that, I'm in awe," the Canadian champion said."I'm so inspired by them because they do the whole thing with their arms and it's becoming more accessible for people to do it which is fantastic."

Mr Khouri said his finish showed it was possible for anyone to push beyond what they thought was possible.

"I realised that I relate this not only to people who are in a wheelchair, but to anybody who has any type of limitation or anything that inhibits him to do something," he said.

"We often let our limitations handicap us and we shouldn't do that. It's so motivating, thrilling and energising to do something that is physically demanding."

Richard Cregan, chief executive of the Yas Marina Circuit, said it was important for such events to be open for everybody to compete.

"I think it takes great courage to do in normal circumstances but if you are in that situation and you still want to get out there, it's fantastic," he said.

Mr Khouri said he will definitely compete in next year's race and may even tackle the 1.5km swim.

"I have to take swimming lessons and train," he said. "1.5km within the marina is doable."

He hopes to beat his time yesterday by cycling 42km in next week's Dubai Marathon. Two weeks after that, he is heading to Lebanon to learn how to ski. "It just shows that if you try, you can," he said. "Go out and push yourself."

The triathlete said his experience of training for and completing the Tri Yas has changed him.

"It's not only you against other people, it's you against your own body," he said. "Sometimes, your life or your body throws you tricks and you can do other things. I can't walk but I competed in something and I now know that I will do more."

cmalek@thenational.ae