The achievement of being remembered is an innate desire of every human being on this blue planet. It is a goal that is embedded in the nature of humankind; it’s just a question of how much effort is exerted, the sacrifice, the necessary changes in one’s life, in the hopes that one day you will be recognized for what you have done. Bitter truth is, even if one is to achieve something of significance, a matter that can inspire and make a difference, it doesn’t always mean that it will be remembered, but at least, it should be appreciated.
Ahmed Al-Mutairi is a young Kuwaiti man with a disability and he has broken numerous world records in wheelchair racing. The world of sports is competitive enough without adding the disability aspect to it, but nothing stopped Ahmed from aiming high and bringing home a gold medal. He does it not for fame or money, but to inspire the Kuwaiti youths with disabilities and let them know that despite your disability, greatness can be achieved and that the sky is the limit.
Question: Give us an insight into the life of Ahmed Al-Mutairi.
Answer: I started my athletic activities like most people, at school, but in my case it wasn’t a normal school considering my disability, it was a special needs school. I was 15 at the time and that was when I started my very first tournament, which was in basketball. My team won and got the trophy!
After the tournament when we were given the winning trophy, one of the PE teachers who organized the games approached me and suggested that I join the Kuwaiti Sports Club for the Disabled as I apparently exhibited high potential in sports. I was intrigued by the invite, so I joined and played basketball at the club for around five months when one of the trainers approached me and suggested that I try other sports. He said I was young and very athletic, and that I should diversify a little bit, maybe I’ll find another sport I might like and excel at.
So I tried wheelchair racing and I loved it, because it was exciting and I excelled like there was no tomorrow. I continued practicing this sport for a while before I joined my very first championship in 2009. It took place in the United Arab Emirates with competitors from all over the region. I won the tournament and scored a world record that qualified me to join my very first Paralympics which took place in New Zealand in 2011. It was basically the launch pad for my career in this field.
Q: If you don’t mind me asking, give us an idea of your disability?
A: I have Cerebral Palsy, also known as CP. It’s a disability that you get either at a very young age or upon birth. In my case, I was diagnosed at birth. I have full control over my body, although movement is very limited from the waist down due to the disease.
Q: Well then, let’s talk about your journey in life in terms of overcoming your disability which led you to achieve great strides in athletics.
A: First of all, I must give credit and express great gratitude to my family, especially my parents, who were very supportive and didn’t spare anything when it comes to my early medications. They took me overseas to receive the best medications and treatments. If it wasn’t for them and their efforts, my current physical state would have been much worse. Even the doctor that took charge of my treatment at a young age here in Kuwait is still my doctor, and also the club’s doctor. I have always been brave and courageous by nature, which also helped me a lot in terms of overcoming my disability, because if you think about it, if you allow your disability to wrestle you down, you can never be successful in your life as a disabled person. You have to overcome it in order to live your life like anyone else in the world.
Q: What was the biggest obstacle that you had to overcome?
A: As I said, by nature, I can never accept defeat and sit there not able to do anything. At the beginning, I did face a difficulty with hesitation in doing anything, although I personally would not call it an obstacle. I did overcome this difficulty but it came back when I joined the club and saw these world champions who you cannot even play with due to their high level skill and performance in the game. It was frustrating, but I used this frustration to overcome hesitation and any other difficulties I faced, especially when I was being introduced to wheelchair racing, it was as if I was learning how to move all over again. I used to wonder, “How can these people even move like that, let alone getting up to crazy speeds?” But thank God, I was able to leave my hesitation behind and move on.
It helped that champions at the time such as Hamad Al-Odwani, who is also my idol and inspiration in wheelchair racing, opened my eyes to a lot of new things. He explained that every disabled person in this sport is different, as everyone has their own type of disability, and that is why there are different classes and tiers when it comes to tournaments and competitions. He encouraged me and told me that the scene is daunting, yes, but don’t get discouraged and fight. Because of my nature, as I said earlier, I was able to do it and became peers and equal with them rather than being the new guy who cannot even catch up.
Q: What advice would you give a young Kuwaiti with a disability that is still in the stage of overcoming his or her disability?
A: Usually, when I go out on a weekend or just strolling around by the beach and I spot a young person with disability, I approach him and urge him to join the club for it will help in his social integration and help him overcome his disability. Most of those I approached said, “Yes, but I’m disabled.” I tell them, “I’m disabled as well and here I am bringing back gold medals.” I sometimes encourage them by saying that if you compete, you will receive a salary to play the sport professionally. For the younger audience, I tell them that if you do good, you will be featured in newspapers and magazines! But in my opinion, the biggest mistakes are being committed by the parents of the disabled. Some them say, “No, I don’t want to take my child to the club because I don’t want people to know he is disabled.”
I don’t know where this comes from, but here I am, a disabled person. There is no difference between me and a normal person. They don’t seem to understand that this is God’s will, the disability given to the child might be a blessing in disguise, and will be compensated with something far greater than the ability to walk or whatever type of disability. If they don’t want to address the mental state of the child through sports, health is a big concern especially for the disabled on a wheelchair. Living life without sports and just sitting on the wheelchair will lead to further health complications. Family is very vital in the life of a disabled person. If it wasn’t for the support of my family, I wouldn’t be where I am right now.
Q: What attracted you to wheelchair racing?
A: As I said earlier, after joining the club and initially played basketball, I explored other sports like tennis, shooting and javelin throwing which I excelled in quite a bit, but due to the nature of these sports of being more subtle and quiet in terms of competition; as in its just you and the target, not much a crowd to create this feeling of excitement, I did not like it much. I was more attracted to the exciting wheelchair racing, created by the cheering crowd and the high speeds. Now if I compare it to basketball, it’s a little bit different in the sense that if one player fails to deliver at any point in the game, all your effort is gone, unlike in wheelchair racing where your failure can only be due to your personal effort.
Q: The world of sports for the disabled is a world that not a lot of people know about, especially its technical aspects, mind if you give us an insight into it?
A: Wheelchairs are essentially the athletes’ feet and legs. Think about it this way, track racers have to make sure that their legs and feet are in the best condition in order for them to compete. This is exactly how it is with our wheelchairs. One of the most important things an athlete has to make sure of is his comfort on the chair, wheels and tires vary depending on the ground. Racing wheelchairs are very sufficient and detailed in terms of design and functionality that one wheelchair can be found at a price of KD 4,000 just for the body, the wheels are priced separately at around KD 500 for one wheel. These prices are very high, but thanks to the club and its board of directors, they supply everything an athlete needs especially when he or she is competing at an international level. When I showed high potential in winning a world championship, the club did not hesitate in ordering a custom-made and state-of-the-art wheelchair for the race.
Recently, a lot of breakthroughs are being made in the world of wheelchair racing. Models that require less power to achieve more speed are being designed and manufactured. Sports for the disabled have their own unique rules and regulations, in comparison to their known counterparts. The design is built around the health and well-being of the athlete, with emphasis on equal ground of competition because of the different types of disabilities competing in one particular sport.
When it comes to training, there are new studies coming out in a more frequent manner nowadays. What trainers used to think was the right way of training an athlete had been proven wrong, to the point that a trainer must stay on top of these things in order to make sure that their trainees receive the most sufficient and effective training.
Q: Would you say that the Kuwaiti Sports Club for the Disabled is doing everything it can to address the sporting needs of the disabled?
A: Absolutely yes, it doesn’t just address the sporting needs; it also facilitates social activities not just for Kuwaitis but for everyone as well. When it comes to sports, the club recruits internationally accredited trainers from around the world. Our current athletics trainer is a former Paralympics champion of Tunisia. After retiring from competing, the club recruited him to train the Kuwaiti youths. He was able to bring back Hamed Al-Odwani from his downfall and compete at the same level he was competing when he won the gold medal. Our trainer right now is being eyed by numerous countries, but the club is making sure that he stays as he is one of the best.
Q: What about here in Kuwait, do you think that the public is aware of the world of Paralympics?
A: If I’m going to be honest, I would say not so much. If news outlets publish a story about a disabled Kuwaiti athlete who brought back a couple of gold medals here and a silver there, majority of the public say, “Oh, they’re having fun.” You will never hear them say that if the Kuwaiti football team comes back with a winning trophy. They don’t understand that what we do is not just for fun, there is a lot of effort put into it considering our disabilities. We are not competing for ourselves, but for the name of Kuwait. International records don’t say Ahmed Al-Mutairi only, they say Ahmed Al-Mutairi of Kuwait.
Q: What about the local media?
A: For some reason, the local media lacks interest in disabled athletes. For example, I brought back a gold medal in the name of Kuwait in wheelchair racing but other than the Arab Times, no media outlet has approached me. I would understand the lack of interest if it was only a GCC championship, but it was a world championship. The public needs to know the efforts being done by the club, and the achievement I have brought back in the name of Kuwait, not for personal fame, I could care less about that, but it’s for inspiration, for those young disabled youths who are still overcoming their disabilities. They should know that despite your disability, the sky is the limit. There is simply no tangible media support. Other countries have dedicated reporters traveling alongside the athletes and the team, while we don’t even get a congratulatory coverage. I thought that a small country like Kuwait competing with bigger countries that have invested in their sports club is more than enough to be recognized and appreciated, but I was mistaken.
Q: I’m sure your achievement is a dream come true, but I have to ask what is the dream?
A: This is just half of the dream, to be honest. What I really want is to be a Paralympics champion. If you ask any athlete in any sport what is their dream, the answer is almost guaranteed to be “winning the Olympics.” For the disabled, it is the Paralympics. In comparison to normal world championships, a bronze medal from the Olympics and Paralympics is worth much more! You get to compete against athletes from over 200 countries. The atmosphere alone is incredibly fantastic.
Q: Tell us about the road to winning the gold medal?
A: I used to compete with athletes on a higher qualification level than what I am actually classed in. Due to the lack of competitors in my qualification, which is T33, I was merged with higher qualification level, essentially competing with people with less disability. Thanks to the efforts of Kuwait alongside other countries to send T33 athletes to world championships and Paralympics, I had a chance to compete with people in my own qualification level. I was then sent on a three-month training camp that started in Egypt to train for the championship, which led to the GCC championship in Qatar, where I competed to be ready for the world championship. After that, the rest of the team headed back home but I remained with the trainer and headed to the UAE for another training camp in preparation for the championship. At the championship, I competed in both the 800-meter race and 100-meter race, although my training focused on the 100-meter race, I joined the 800-meter race to push me even further towards winning a medal at the 100-meter race. Out of 13 competitors and a higher qualification level, I was able to get eighth place. In the 100-meter in my own qualification level, I got first place and the gold medal.
21 years old
World record and gold medal holder in the T33 100m wheelchair racing Paralympics with the timing of “0:16.46”
Broke numerous records in qualification levels higher than T33
Member of the Kuwaiti Basketball team for the disabled that participated at the West-Asia Championship and won first place.
By Ahmed Al-Naqeeb
Arab Times Staff