She has more than 18 Special Olympic medals to her name but on Saturday, Emirati athlete Hamda Al Hosani added an honorary doctorate to her collection of accolades.
The 100m and 200m sprinter was presented with a doctorate degree from Middlesex University Dubai for her achievements in sports and for empowering people with disabilities.
The degree was handed to her during a special ceremony at the Dubai Opera on Saturday, after which about 1,000 university students received their degrees.
Hamda’s story is moving because from not even being able to walk at one stage, she has shone on the world stage
Cedwyn Fernandes, Middlesex University Dubai
University officials said she was a natural choice and wanted to recognise Ms Al Hosani’s work to raise the profile of women in sports and change the perception of people with disabilities.
She won a gold and two silver medals at the Special Olympics World Games in Abu Dhabi in March this year and was among 300 athletes with intellectual disabilities who represented the UAE.
The distinction is significant for the athlete, who has always been determined to break down stereotypes against people with intellectual disabilities.
“From a young age I wanted to achieve my dream but I was concerned that my epilepsy would hold me back,” said Ms Al Hosani, 30.
“I am determined to progress more and more each day.”
Ms Al Hosani has never let epilepsy get in the way of success. She has had mild seizures on the track and got back to training as soon as she recovered.
Her disability came to a head in grade 6, when she struggled to walk and was forced to stay home for two years due to recurring health issues.
Always active, she resumed playing basketball and running. With her mother’s encouragement, she joined the Special Olympics team and has never looked back.
Saturday was the first time Middlesex University Dubai recognised the achievements of an athlete in the region. The honorary doctorate has been awarded to top businessmen and ministers over the past decade.
“Hamda is an inspiration for everyone because of the great heights she has reached and how she has preserved against all odds,” said Cedwyn Fernandes, vice chancellor of the university.
“Hamda’s story is moving because from not even being able to walk at one stage, she has shone on the world stage.
“The message to our students is whatever the challenge, your future is in your hands and you can make it out to be what you want it to be.”
The university said Ms Al Hosani’s achievements caught their attention following the coverage of the Special Olympics in The National.
“The Special Olympics has made a massive difference in terms of awareness because people understand the need to include everyone as part of society,” Mr Fernandes said.
“There is a realisation that we are not doing a favour when we get people of determination to work or to a university but that they belong.”
The UAE Special Olympics team said hosting the World Games in Abu Dhabi brought into focus the global mission to promote social change for people with intellectual disabilities using the power of sport.
“We are really proud for Hamda,” said Talal Al Hashemi, national director of Special Olympics UAE.
“This degree shows that the movement will keep growing. It’s a very important moment for us and shows that being unified is part of our culture and community.”
Ms Al Hosani gave a short speech at the ceremony, where she was cheered on by her family and team members who have supported her.
The honorary doctorate was previously been awarded to Sultan bin Sulayem, DP World chairman, Tim Clark, Emirates airline president and Yusuff Ali, chairman of the Lulu Group.