x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Tri Yas entrant aims to raise awareness for disabled athletes

Left paralysed from the chest down after a motorcycle accident, Chris Khouri competed at the triathlon as the only disabled athlete using a specialised bicycle as part of a team.

Chris Khouri is one of many disabled people in the UAE who experience a sense of exclusion when it comes to outdoor activities, but by participating as the only disabled athlete in the Tri Yas triathlon at Yas Marina Circuit this Friday, he hopes to change all that.

After a motorcycle accident two years ago left him paralysed from the chest down, Khouri, 38, is taking part in the Tri Yas by "running" 10km using his arms to push himself in his wheelchair, and biking 40km as part of a team.

The bicycle is specially made, and Khouri will pedal with his hands. Because it is his first triathlon, he has decided to compete as part of a team. His teammate will swim the 1.5km course.

"Since I got injured, I want to prove something to myself and other people, particularly here in the UAE, and I want to show that: a) there are handicapped people; b) if you're handicapped, it doesn't mean you have to stay at home; and c) you have to push yourself," Khouri, a Lebanese-Dutchman who moved to the UAE 10 years ago, said.

Khouri studied hotel management in the Netherlands and Switzerland before switching to a career in information technology in Saudi Arabia and the UAE. His life turned upside down when the accident happened. "You question everything, suddenly you're a third of what you used to be and you don't know what the future holds," he said.

"I've always been someone who's active, but active in terms of 'I want to have fun' active. I drove a lot of motorcycles in the desert and did a lot of water sports, but never anything competitive."

Khouri's rehabilitation prompted his decision to take part in the triathlon about a year ago, and he has been practising as much as possible. "I try to cycle 50km a day around the Arabian Ranches, where I live. I'm doing weights, physiotherapy six hours a week and massages."

The Tri Yas will be the first triathlon held at a Formula One circuit and the competition is open to all, at either the full Olympic distance or the half-length sprint distance.

Khouri said he was pleased to have found an event to compete in. "The Dubai Municipality didn't accept me as a participant [for the Dubai Creek Striders half marathon] because it's not a road race, it's a pavement one, and I'm not entitled to do that," he said. "To them I say 'get over it, you're here for the sport and I want to see more people around'.

"This is also one of the reasons I want to, ideally, get to a stage where I can raise the profile of handicapped sports in the country so that handicapped people can have the option of coming to more events."

Khouri, married with two children, emphasised the need for handicapped athletes to become a part of regular events.

The Tri Yas venue manager, Troy Watson, a 28-year-old Australian, will take part in the Olympic distance event and has high hopes for a successful competition.

"We want to [go] beyond what people see us for. We want to show the development of the Circuit and hope [Tri Yas] will become an annual event," he said. "We think it will be a fun day and we think that the different distances will encourage a lot of first-time triathletes to give it a go."

Khouri said his accident woke up a certain competitiveness that led him to push himself, and although training for the triathlon had been painful, it had challenged and motivated him.

"The Tri has been a way of challenging myself physically, saying I can, and next time I'll even do the swimming and more. I moved from being a voluntary cynic to someone who's quite positive."

cmalek@thenational.ae