Paralympic gold medallist inspires UAE amputees to take up running
DUBAI // German paralympian Heinrich Popow has been inspiring amputees in the UAE to put their disability aside and take up running.
The sprinter, who had his left leg amputated after having cancer diagnosed at the age of nine, won gold at the London 2012 Paralympics and is the world record holder for the 100m, with a time of 12.40 seconds.
He has been leading running clinics this week in Dubai and Abu Dhabi in the build-up to the 7Emirates run next week.
Popow lived with a standard prosthetic limb until eight years ago, when he was fitted with a running blade prosthetic. Since then his career has flourished.
At clinics staged by German Limbtech and Otto Bock Healthcare, Popow has been helping to encourage amputees living in the UAE to try out similar running prosthetics.
“My rehabilitation came through sport,” said Popow, 32, who was a regular training partner of disgraced South African athlete Oscar Pistorius.
“The problem was not losing a leg, it was seeing my friends running and playing football.
“I love it when people stop and ask me about my leg, how I run. It is unusual here, people are interested in what we’re doing.
“As a role model, it is not about being a paralympian, it is about how you handle your disability and fulfil dreams.
“I never thought I would be the best in the world but I can still go further and want to go under 12 seconds. It would be a new barrier.”
The 7EmiratesRun is open to teams or individuals who will run 575 kilometres across the UAE in 12 days, from tomorrow until December 2, to raise funds to help children who have lost limbs.
It is hoped the run will raise more than Dh1 million for medical education and research organisation the Al Jalila Foundation, which Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, founded to position the UAE at the forefront of medical innovation.
Taking part in the 7Emirates run for the fourth year is Wendelin Lauxen, managing director of German Limbtech Orthopaedic Technology and a Guinness World Record-holder for completing marathons in seven continents in the fastest time, just 21 days.
Mr Lauxen has been encouraging others to take up running while his wife Petra has been offering advice on prosthetics.
“We wanted to give people the chance to feel the wind again as they run,” he said. “They cannot feel it during walking.”
Brazilian Luis Pradines, 43, is an Emirates flight operations engineer who lives in Nad Al Sheba. He had his leg amputated below the knee after a train accident at the age of 11.
“I hadn’t run for 30 years before trying out this new prosthetic,” he said.
“Running is a different feeling. I swim and cycle, now I would like to do a triathlon. When you lose a limb, it is really bad but it is not the end of the world.”
Abdullah Hasan Al Fifi, 34, a 100m sprinter from Saudi Arabia, was born without a leg.
His personal best for 100m is 14 seconds, a time he aims to improve by at least 15 per cent.
“I am training for the Rio games,” he said.
“But there are issues with the Saudi government because the team needs female competitors in order to compete under Olympic rules.”
Sofyan Tebbi, 37, a German prosthetist and orthotist working at the running clinics, hopes to help Mr Al Fifi to achieve his goal.
“We can adjust his leg to improve his performance,” he said. “It is a gradual adjustment but he will get faster. The limit he has is only in his mind.”
Updated: November 19, 2015 04:00 AM