Two hundred athletes with special needs from across the UAE gathered to compete in the first ever Infinity Games on Friday.
Hosted by Sunmarke School in Dubai, competitors from schools and sports clubs gathered to compete in a series of races, sprints, obstacle course races and gymnastics contests in what the Games' founder claims is the country's first special needs competition open to people of all nationalities.
PE teacher Hollie Murphy, the founder who has run the Sports Heroes Academy for people with special needs for four years, said that without a competition like this "nobody would encourage these kids” to compete.
"I invited 65 mainstream schools to take part. I spoke to every single PE teacher in the region and encouraged them to bring children with special needs to participate," she said.
As only five teachers responded, she collaborated with the Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019 committee, and expanded the event to include special needs centres and sports clubs.
The Special Olympics team helped her to organise the event and 150 of their athletes joined in.
Talal Al Hashemi, national director of the Special Olympics UAE, said collaborating with Infinity Games helped them achieve their most important goal of better including people with special needs into society.
"People with special needs have unique capabilities," he said, pointing out that such an event gave them a chance to showcase their skills.
"It also gave our Special Olympics athletes a chance to practice for next year."
As the sun shone, the athletes saw the fruits of their hard training out on the field.
Nada Nasser, 12, from Sharjah's Al Thiqa Club for those with special needs, showed herself to be a Special Olympics star in the making when she won her group’s 400-metre race, despite it being the first time she had ever competed.
"I have been training every day in swimming, badminton and basketball since I was small," said the Iranian."
Meanwhile, fellow group athlete Iman Tayseer waited for her turn to run.
"I have been training for 10 years," said the Palestinian, 35. While she has participated in small races at her club, she said this was the first time she had been given the chance to compete in a contest.
"Since I joined a sports club, I run for an hour every day,” she said. "I am very excited."
Navya Karapath, 12, also won third place in a 400-metre race. Beaming with joy, she shook hands with everyone she saw.
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Her mother, Dr Vandana – who did not want to give her first name – said the victory followed a series of heartbreaks at school, where she was never picked to join sports teams due to her disability.
"Every time there is school sport session she comes home crying and saying 'I did not participate'."
However, all of that changed when she joined the Sports Heroes Academy three months ago and began running and playing football.
At the academy each special needs athlete is supervised by a volunteer who gives them one-on-one training.
It welcomes children from all schools and centres and has attracted the praise of parents who had previously been desperate to see their children get involved in sport.
"There should be more inclusion; the government should make it compulsory for schools to involve children with special needs in sports,” said Dr Vandana.
Contestants at the games were divided across three categories based on the endurance level of athletes.
By the end of the day, the best performing three teams received gold, silver and bronze medals.
A trophy was also presented to the most outstanding athlete, and another to the most valuable player.
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