Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 19 November 2019

'Miracle son' wins gold as Special Olympians make history

World Games has gathered some of the most determined athletes in Abu Dhabi

The Special Olympics has truly brought the determined to Abu Dhabi, and none more so than Joseph Bradley, who was a fighter from a very young age.

When Bradley was two years old his father beat him over the head with a blunt object, dunked him in scalding water, hit him in the groin and left him for dead.

The toddler’s injuries were so severe that he has permanent brain damage, loss of sight in one eye and paralysis on his right side.

“At the hospital, they told me to prepare for his funeral,” said his mother, Mary Bradley, 43.

Bradley has since come a long way. He celebrated his 19th birthday a few weeks ago and on Tuesday, at Al Forsan International Sports Resort, he won a gold and bronze medal in the equestrian working trials and dressage.

Joseph and Mary Bradley celebrate at the Special Olympics World Games. Shireena Al Nowais / The National
Joseph and Mary Bradley celebrate at the Special Olympics World Games. Shireena Al Nowais / The National

He is also the first athlete from Alabama, in the US, to compete in the Special Olympics World Games for more than 30 years.

“He’s my miracle,” said Ms Bradley, a mother of three. “I would never have expected this.”

She said horse riding has helped Bradley with his balance and he loves the sport.

“I love to travel and to horse ride. It is very relaxing,” said the medallist, who uses a wheelchair when not on horseback.

Also competing in the horse riding was Reyna Taylor, 29.

Rami Al Azraee from Iraq holds up his medals at the Special Olympics World Games athletics competition in Dubai Police Academy on Tuesday. Reem Mohammed / The National
Rami Al Azraee from Iraq holds up his medals at the Special Olympics World Games athletics competition in Dubai Police Academy on Tuesday. Reem Mohammed / The National

Her parents, Yolanda and Jim, said she had to overcome a crippling fear of strangers to join the US Special Olympics team.

“This was 18 years in the making,” said Ms Taylor, 56.

She said her daughter, who has autism, became more outgoing when they signed her up for horse-riding classes.

“She went from a child who was shy of strangers and speaking up to a confident young woman who will now approach strangers and wants to get to know them," Ms Taylor said.

Studies have shown that interacting with animals can be of great benefit to people with autism and Taylor said she felt a special bond with the horses.

“People say I am weird, especially because I shake my hand a lot when I get excited," she said. "I call it the crazy hand. I don’t feel weird but that’s what they say.

“When they told me that I was coming to the UAE I told all my friends and they were happy for me.”

Abdulrahim Alseiri, from the UAE, competes in the bowling competition at Zayed Sports City on Tuesday. Victor Besa / The National
Abdulrahim Alseiri, from the UAE, competes in the bowling competition at Zayed Sports City on Tuesday. Victor Besa / The National

Back on Abu Dhabi island, the UAE team was competing in the last day of the bowling competition.

Coach Samira Ouzmi said she considered “special circumstances” when picking the team of 22. Three are orphans.

Badriya Salem, 23, and her brother Khaled, 25, lost their mother to heart disease a few months ago.

“I never saw my father,” Badriya said. “He died in a car accident when I was a baby.”

This was her first time in the Special Olympics and she won the bronze.

“When I won, I was sure that my parents were happy. I felt them next to me,” she said.

Ms Ouzmi said knowing the siblings' backgrounds and having lost her own mother made her push them to join the team.

“They would never have participated if we hadn’t encouraged them,” she said. “The Special Olympics has changed their lives. It has got them out of their shell and depression.”

For some, the road to the Games also meant having to find a way to pay for the journey.

Jitendra Patwal, a sprinter representing India, had no money for essentials, let alone sporting gear.

Despite his family’s financial struggles Patwal, 19, found a way to compete in the largest humanitarian sports event of the year and took home gold in the 200-metre sprint.

“Despite his struggles Jitendra never gave up his hope of participating in the Games,” said Harish, his coach.

“If God has taken away some abilities from these people, he has also blessed people of determination with many unique and special abilities and talents.

“One should not overlook or back away from people of determination. Everyone should encourage these people so they can be a very important part of the society and be able to contribute towards the betterment of the country."

Updated: March 20, 2019 12:38 PM

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