From Fierce Determination, An Unlikely Swimmer Becomes a Champion

July 31, 2012

Abdel-Rahman Hassan Al-Hemdan was determined to swim. Despite paralysis, despite slow progress, he made progress that amazed his father and later, amazed the world.

Hemdan is helped from his wheelchair into the pool.

Into The Water. Hemdan gets a hand entering the water at the 2007 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Shanghai.

A Desire to Swim

Ten-year-old Saudi swimmer, Abdel-Rahman Hassan Al-Hemdan, accomplished an unprecedented achievement for his country when he claimed two gold medals at the Special Olympics World Summer Games in Shanghai.

The young champion became the new prodigy of his country when he captured the admiration and applause of the Chinese spectators attending the competitions. Despite being half-paralyzed, he swam as gracefully as a dolphin.  The two gold medals came in the 25 and 50 meter races. 

On behalf of Abdel-Rahman, his father recalled how his son took on swimming. “It was a matter of coincidence,” Hemdan, the father said. “Abdel-Rahman’s brother Youssef, and some relatives were members of a swimming school. They used to train and I would take Abdel-Rahman with us to watch.

"Surprisingly, he used to keep asking me everyday to jump in the water, but I was afraid because of his disability, in addition to suffering from asthma. But Abdel-Rahman insisted, so I bought him a special swimming suit and started training him with the assistance of the coaches, and gathered info from the Internet and books about his condition." 

Hemdan sits in his wheelchair, medals around his neck, arms raised in triumph.

Triumph. Hemdan shows off his medals.

Steady Progress

"It took us a month until Abdel-Rahman was able to hold his breath underwater for three seconds. During his daily training, I tried to hide my fears in front of him. I was worried about his health condition.

"But, on the contrary, he was so patient and determined to succeed. I never found such will within athletes, even the non-disabled ones. It took him a whole year of training to cover a distance of one meter. Can one imagine how determined he was?

"The second step was covering a distance of ten meters and he continued until he reached such a level. And amidst all that, Abdel-Rahman maintained showing good performance in school." 

emdan receives certificate while he is seated and surrounded by well-wishers

At the World Games in China

"Recalling these days, that required hard training and follow ups, I thank God for everything. It was my dream for my son, and a message to show the world the real abilities of this intellectual disabled child. I’m so proud of him.

"It was a remarkable moment for Abdel-Rahman as the Chinese spectators cheered for him after winning the gold medals. He became a celebrity and everyone wanted to take snap shots of him and with him.

"The Chinese media named him ‘The Champ’ and his pictures were all over the covers of local magazines in China, in addition to making headlines in newspapers and TV news bulletins. He also received many gifts from fans, especially from the hotel staff who were some of his great supporters."

Work For The Future

"From my experience, I advise parents and families of the intellectual disabled athletes to work for their future. If we abled people sometimes suffer when facing problems, imagine the case if it involves a handicapped or an intellectual disabled.

"The Special Olympics athlete should start training at an early age, and learn to live within a disciplined schedule. It will enable him to gain self-confidence which is very important. Parents should also learn how to help their children mingle within the society.”

Finally, Hemdan believes that his son was able to convey the message of Saudi Arabia to the world which he himself couldn’t have been able to.

“I couldn’t have done it like him. He made us all proud. Whenever, the Chinese people saw him, they greeted him and called him ‘the Saudi Arabian’ in Chinese. Abdel-Rahman is the pride of our nation,” Hemdan proudly concluded.

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