An Athlete's Perspective on World Down Syndrome Day

By Special Olympic athlete, Chaica Al Qassimi, a Technical Officer, Judo, Special Olympics UAE team
Chaica Al Qassimi giving a speech at the World Games in Abu Dhabi

My name is Chaica Al Qassimi. I am 22-years-old. I am a martial artist with a black belt in karate. I live in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates (UAE). I am a sister, daughter and granddaughter.

And I have Down syndrome.

These words summaries me, but they do not define me. They are part of my life but not barriers to my life, to my ability to achieve my dreams, conquer my fears or live my life to the fullest.

Over the last two weeks, my home country has welcomed over 7,500 sons, daughters, mothers and fathers to take part in Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019.

Each of these athletes has shown great ability in their chosen sports. Some excelled while others fell short, but every one of them has lived out their dreams of representing their friends, family and country on the world stage.

And each of them has an intellectual disability.

Since its inception 50 years ago, Special Olympics has proven time and time again that having a disability does not dictate what a person can achieve, nor does it limit their potential.

The fields, courts, swimming pools and mats where the various sports and disciplines of the World Games Abu Dhabi have played out over the last week witnessed this fact.

As an athlete and an Emirati, I am thrilled to have been a part of the World Games Abu Dhabi.

The World Games Abu Dhabi has been an incredible opportunity for my homeland to showcase the huge strides that have been made in integrating people of determination like myself into the local community and into every aspect of UAE society.

Chaica Al Qassim at a reception table at an Abu Dhabi World Games event

The stigma that once surrounded the topic of intellectual disabilities is rapidly becoming a thing of the past. People in the UAE are changing their attitudes and their perceptions.

People of determination have an important role to play in UAE society and now stand side by side with their fellow citizens and residents without intellectual disabilities.

The barriers that existed are being broken down by a wave of integration that is sweeping schools, universities, businesses and even homes across the country.

The UAE’s leaders have shown they are fully committed to creating a more unified and inclusive society that will have far-reaching and long-lasting benefits for everyone.

By leading by example and displaying an unwavering dedication to achieving the goal of integration, our leaders are inspiring an entire nation.

I am living proof of the benefits of integration and of not using a disability as an excuse to leave a person behind or to segregate them, both in education and everyday life.

As a graduate of the Sharjah English School and the International School of Arts & Science in Dubai, I studied alongside classmates who did not have an intellectual disability.

Far from being isolated or studying alone, I was welcomed into the classroom by my fellow students who became my friends.

My education and my development as an individual has been shaped by, and greatly benefited from, being around people of different nationalities, ages and, of course, abilities.

I like to think that my classmates benefited just as much from attending classes with me, too.

My mindset towards integration is not something that has been changed or developed over the years. It is something I have always felt, experienced and enjoyed.

I have lived a fully integrated life. My family have never treated me different because of my Down syndrome. It was never seen as a hindrance by them, or by me.

They have been fully supportive of my choices. My decision to practice martial arts was always embraced and encouraged.

Through my choice of sport, I have been able to connect with so many other athletes and individuals with and without intellectual disabilities.

After gaining my black belt from the Shotokan Japanese Karate Centre, I joined the Special Olympics UAE team and competed in martial arts contests across the country and overseas.

For my home country to have hosted the World Games fills me with a huge sense of pride, and to be asked to been part of the official Flame of Hope Torch Run was like a dream come true.

I have had an incredible time refereeing at the Judo competitions at the World Games and taking on a brand-new challenge in my sporting life.

While I did not compete at the Games and wasn’t able to win any medals, I’m determined to show that people of determination have the skills and abilities to play a valuable role in every aspect of society.

Today, with the Closing Ceremony of the World Games, Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019 officially comes to a close. But our story does not end here.

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