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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 September 2018

UAE women's Special Olympics football squad shows no sign of slowing down

The team that will represent the country in Mena Special Olympics thrives on competition 

The UAE women’s football team have already won medals for the country. Courtesy Special Olympics UAE
The UAE women’s football team have already won medals for the country. Courtesy Special Olympics UAE

Playing with friends, representing their country and traveling the world has the UAE women's team hooked on football.

But the Emirati women who have won medals for the UAE Women’s Football team in the Special Olympics events are passionate about all sports and still play other games.

Refusing to let their developmental conditions become unsurmountable obstacles, the women’s parents were proactive and introduced them to sports when they were young.

“I've never looked at anything in life as a challenge that I couldn't overcome. Every obstacle was just like a speed bump that I needed to work a little harder than everyone else to get over,” said Mariam Rahman, 23, who enjoys playing football and basketball.

“I don't believe that anyone should be discouraged to play any sports regardless of a mental or physical disability they may have. My advice to them is to find what they love, put in the hard work in excelling and in time they will. I am a living example of that, I have taken up new sports and excelled in them. I have medals to show for it,” she said.

Ms Rahman practices at least two hours daily and is looking forward to competing in the Mena games in Abu Dhabi this week.

“From a young age my parents encouraged me to play basketball, so it became more of a passion rather than just a sport. I enjoy the running and I love that I’m a part of a team made up of my friends,” said Ms Rahman who has been part of UAE teams that have won gold, silver and bronze medals for the country.

When not in training, she is out with her brothers playing football and basketball.

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“They motivate me and push me to be the best that I can be,” she said.

“I look up to my brothers the most, they play football and are very good at it.”

The world’s largest sporting event for people with intellectual disabilities, the Special Olympics aims to use the joy of sports to transform lives.

The goal is for people with developmental disabilities to uncover new strengths, skills and inspire others in the community.

The Special Olympics for the Middle East and North Africa region will run from March 14 to 23 in Abu Dhabi.

The UAE will be the first country in the region to hold the World Games next year.

Emirati sportswoman Rania Al Sari is a natural athlete. “One day when I was four-years-old I just picked up a ball and started playing basketball and that’s when it all started,” said the 20-year-old, who represents the UAE football team and also enjoys bowling.

While Ms Al Sari is a keen competitor, working towards set goals is as important

“I enjoy the competitive side of sports and love to compete,” said Ms Al Sari, who hopes that watching the team play will inspire others to join the Special Olympics UAE.

“I don’t believe I have any challenges. I am not worried about winning, as long as I put in time and effort,” she said.

Her family, particularly her mother, is her main motivator.

“My whole family especially my mother, she pushed me the most to follow, practice what I love,” she said.

Unlike others in the team who have played sport most of their lives, Shaima Al Marzooqi is a relative newcomer and was guided to the outdoors only last year.

“Around one year ago my parents encouraged me to get into sports and I took up football and basketball. I love running and being outdoors as well as the challenge, the feeling of competing and excelling.”

Ms Al Marzooqi had to learn to face her fear of competing.

Like any other athlete anxious about performing, she too was nervous that she would not make it to the team.

“I used to fear competing in the Special Olympics because I thought I wouldn’t fit in. Special Olympics is a big deal and I thought I was bound to fail. But I shut those thoughts out, carried on practicing and proved to myself and everyone else that I am capable of whatever I set my mind to,” said Ms Al Marzooqi, who said she constantly pushes herself to keep practicing and getting better.

Her brothers and sisters are a key reason that she enjoys the game.

“My siblings are not professional players but I look up to them, they play football all the time,” she said.

Ms Al Marzooqi’s goal is to spread awareness and encourage others just like her family has supported her.

“I would like to tell those who fear facing their challenges to not be scared, and to overcome those fears by facing them. They can follow my lead because I started just like that and look at what I’ve achieved now.”

Six things you need to know about UAE Women’s Special Olympics football team

Several girls started playing football at age four

They describe sport as their passion

The girls don’t dwell on their condition

They just say they may need to work a little harder than others

When not in training, they play football with their brothers and sisters

The girls want to inspire others to join the UAE Special Olympics teams

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