Marathons are inspiring for both participants and spectators. The challenge of a 42-kilometer course though summons the potential of the human spirit and prompts people of all ages and abilities to come together in support of one goal—finishing the race.
The country of Morocco is home to many marathons, including an annual race in the iconic city of Marrakech that draws tens of thousands of runners each year from around the world. Events such as the Marrakech Marathon foster connections among people from all walks of life. Special Olympics Morocco recently partnered with the marathon’s organizers to spread awareness of the transformative power of Unified Schools, which gather students with and without intellectual disabilities to play together and learn from one another.
Cheered on by over 1,000 supporters, 55 Special Olympics Morocco athletes and Unified partners ran a portion of the marathon together. Wearing Special Olympics apparel emblazoned with the Stavros Niarchos Foundation logo, the runners promoted Unified Schools and shared with spectators the joy of inclusion.
The Marrakech Marathon organizers provided medals for the Special Olympics Morocco runners to celebrate their achievements, validating the students’ efforts.
“Participating in the marathon was hard but we had a good laugh all along and we managed to do it, thanks to our coaches,” said Badr, a Special Olympics Morocco athlete. “During these moments, I feel good and free,” shared Badr.
The marathon was the finale of a multi-day cultural exchange that Special Olympics Morocco organized with its network of Unified Schools. Hundreds of Special Olympics Morocco athletes and partners traveled from the capital city of Rabat to Marrakech, where they were hosted by a local Unified School for a celebration of inclusion. Students of all abilities enjoyed a picnic, played sports together and toured the historic city of Marrakech.
The students who traveled from Rabat viewed the cultural exchange as a positive experience. “As a student, I learned a lot about inclusion and being in the company of a [Special Olympics] athlete. It was rewarding,” said Medhi, a Unified partner. “I made a lot of friends during our days in Marrakech. We were together all the time and we had a great time,” Medhi added.
This event was the first time that Special Olympics Morocco partnered with the Marrakech Marathon. The program hopes to build off this successful experience to plan and carry out future cultural exchanges.
“Thanks to the success of this marathon, our future ambition is to bring back even more athletes from several cities around Morocco and [let] them benefit from this special experience,” said Aida, a project manager for Special Olympics Morocco. “We hope to also extend the [cultural exchange] to a full week so they can enjoy a visit to the city of Marrakech and have more time to form [personal connections] with other students,” added Aida.
Showing the talents of people of all abilities in a public event such as the Marrakech Marathon contributes to the breaking down of stigma and discrimination toward people with intellectual disabilities. It also provides students with an experience they won’t forget. “The trip was unforgettable; we played, sang, and danced. I was happy,” said Badr.