“I want to improve my athletic ability and represent Pakistan in 2016 Olympics. My aim is personal growth, not money,” said Mardan resident Asadullah. Asadullah came first in the polio race that was part of the first Wheelchair Marathon held on March 25 (Sunday).
“I arrived for the race early to get a good position. I also decided to walk a kilometre (km) of the 3 km total. The rest I covered in my wheelchair which helped me go faster,” said Asadullah
On Sunday at 10am 80 participants raced on Gulberg’s Main Boulevard up to Liberty Roundabout in an hour long race. Close to 300 spectators cheered the men and women on. The police provided security and helped blocking off the thoroughfare. Two separate races, one for polio survivors and another for those with spinal cord injuries, were organised.
Event organiser Dr Khalid Jameel said the marathon went better than he had expected. He added that they were lucky to get a large group from Karachi to participate in the marathon. Dr Akhter is president of the Punjab Paralympics, a group that encourages disabled people to take up sports.
Dr Akhter said more than 50 participants were from Sindh. There were also participants from Sheikhupura, Mardan, Peshawar, Multan and Bannu.
Jameel said disabled people from all over the world were participating in the Wheelchair Marathon in the London Olympics this year. “In Pakistan, we see all types of sports, but nothing for the disabled.”
“This is an opportunity for the disabled to participate in a sports event. If we keep holding this event annually, we may see a Pakistani taking part in a Wheelchair Marathon in the next Olympics,” he said.
In 2013, Jameel said, they would also include a third category for those disabled with cerebral palsy.
Groups working with the disabled in Bangladesh, India, Bhutan and Nepal have already shown interest in sending participants for the 2013 Wheelchair Marathon, said Jameel, which he said would probably again be held in Lahore.
He said this year only two women had participated. “We will try to get more women to participate next year. Also, there were maybe two participants from Lahore. I’d like to see more Lahoris participating.”
He said he would also approach international agencies to donate sports wheelchairs for the 2013 marathon.
Everyone raced in their own wheel chairs this year. Local wheel chairs, used in the event, cost about Rs15,000 and are not suited for racing. Sports wheel chairs cost from Rs300,000 to Rs600,000.
Jameel said his connections with people working for the welfare of the disabled across Pakistan helped in organising the event. “We sent invitations to every group in early March. Accommodations for the participants were sponsored by a company.”
However, Muhammad Rasheed, the first position holder in the race for people with spinal cord injuries, was disappointed with the arrangements.
“I had to pay for my own transport. The organisers should be more considerate towards the disabled at least in this regard.”
Asadullah was satisfied with the arrangements and did not care about getting reimbursed for travel expenses.
About 90 per cent of the participants were disabled due to polio.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 27th, 2012.