x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

UAE paralympic athlete on polio: I don’t want younger generations to lose hope

Mohammed Al Hammadi rose above his disability to win bronze and silver medals for the UAE at the Paralympic Games in London last year.

Mohammed Al Hammadi lost his legs after contracting polio as a young boy. Despite his disability, he went on to win the bronze and silver medals for the UAE at the Paralympic Games in London in 2012. Courtesy UAE National Paralympic Committee
Mohammed Al Hammadi lost his legs after contracting polio as a young boy. Despite his disability, he went on to win the bronze and silver medals for the UAE at the Paralympic Games in London in 2012. Courtesy UAE National Paralympic Committee

ABU DHABI // Confined to a wheelchair when he was a child, Mohammed Al Hammadi spent years searching for a cure for the disease that put him there.

Mohammed, 27, lost the use of his legs after contracting polio as a young boy. He never did find a cure, because there is none.

Instead, he found something else.

Every morning he rose at 4am and raced 21 kilometres in his wheelchair, training as a paralympic athlete.

Mohammed's dedication paid off when he won bronze and silver medals for the UAE at the Paralympic Games in London last year.

"As far as I'm concerned, I'm living. But I really want younger patients to look for ways to treat themselves," he says.

"I really care about the children. After all these years, I'm not really seeking treatment, but I want younger generations to never lose hope," Mohammed said.

He derives enormous optimism from the support offered by the UAE and its rulers for the disabled community - notably the pledge made yesterday by Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, to donate Dh440 million to strengthen global efforts to eradicate polio by 2018.

"The sheikhs, God bless them, really make us feel like we don't have any disabilities. They give us everything. I'm hopeful people never suffer from this condition again," Mohammed said.

When he was a child growing up in Sharjah, people urged Mohammed to travel abroad for treatment, to countries such as the US, Germany and the UK.

"Some people advised me to go there," he said. "But now, since I discovered sports, I don't really mind any more about treatment."

At last summer's games, the young Emirati won silver in the men's 200-metre T34 wheelchair race and bronze in the 100 metres.

"The challenge that I have from racing makes me live with this. I don't feel like I am losing anything," he said.

zalhassani@thenational.ae