After a Mistake Cost Him Victory, UAE Swimmer Aims for Gold at Special Olympics
By Muhammed Aladdin
FINA, the international swimming federation, ruled that at the end of a race a swimmer has to touch the pool’s wall with both hands to finish. In the 2015 Los Angeles Special Olympics, Abdullah Al-Tajir touched with one hand and raised the other in celebration, costing him the gold medal. Four years later, on his home turf, the champion is determined not to repeat the mistake.
When victory first slipped out of the 26-year-old champion, he was devastated, but the pain helped him in his training for the 2019 Special Olympics, which was set to be in his own country, the UAE. This time around, Al-Tajer dreams of a golden double, defending his 50-meter freestyle title and winning the 50-meter breaststroke race.
The young Emirati is one of 300 athletes with learning and cognitive disabilities from the UAE who will be competing in the 2019 Special Olympics, the first edition ever to be held in the MENA region.
According to an interview with The National, when asked why he wants to win, Al-Tajir said that he wants to make the President of the UAE Sheikh Khalifa and the people of the Emirates happy. And, indeed, people do love him.
In 2004, in Tunisia’s regional competition, Al-Tajir was 12 years of age when he won his first gold medal. Three years later at the Shanghai Special Olympics, he picked up two gold medals, the first time the UAE wins swimming gold medals at a global event. Now, he leads the UAE national team, motivating younger swimmers.
Coach Jamal Nasser, who has been working with the special needs team for 15 years, believes that young stars like Abdullah Al-Tajir send strong positive messages to parents around the world who still cannot cope with the stigma surrounding disability.
The veteran coach has seen how Al-Tajir developed from a loner to a leader. “Abdullah now likes to share what he is doing. He does not want to be alone like before,” he said as he smiled watching Al-Tajir help other teammates with their strokes.
With his passion for guitar and his love for Rapper 50 Cent, Al-Tajir is shattering stereotypes and inspiring millions all around the Arab World. He is helping us realize that reaching out to people with disabilities can help us as much as it helps them.