Abu Dhabi to Sharjah, with help from the sun

A polio sufferer handicapped since childhood will try for a world record 14-hour journey today in his solar-powered wheelchair.

DUBAI // A polio sufferer confined to a wheelchair since childhood will today attempt a 14-hour, non-stop journey from Abu Dhabi to Sharjah to set a world record.

Haidar Taleb, a 47-year-old Emirati, will cruise along at about 20kph in a specially designed solar-powered wheelchair.

Mr Taleb will set off at 6am from Masdar City in the capital, cruising the roughly 130km and arriving at about 8pm at Al Thiqa Club for the Handicapped in Sharjah, where he works as a general manager.

“I want to send out a message to disabled people that there are no obstructions,” he said. “Whatever you think about, you can do. Give disabled people a chance and they can perform miracles.”

There have been no Guinness world records for distance travelled in a motorised wheelchair, Mr Taleb said, but the organisation’s judges have given him a target of a minimum distance of 100km to complete.

The US-based Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation set a record for the longest number of wheelchair-bound people in a moving line – 193 – in July.

It is not the first time Mr Taleb has made such a long trip on a solar-powered wheelchair. He travelled 170km last year, over the course of three days, from Sharjah to Abu Dhabi. That journey was interspersed with rest periods, but they are not an option should he wish to set a record on this one – today’s journey must be unbroken.

“I think it’s going to be very tough, but hopefully we will make it,” said Mr Taleb, who had polio diagnosed when he was four. “We’ve been testing the wheelchair and preparing all last week.”

The journey is sponsored by Masdar, which contributed Dh250,000. About Dh100,000 of that was spent on developing the solar wheelchair, and the rest on logistics for the journey.

The wheelchair is significantly smaller than the one used for last year’s foray, which Mr Taleb said was impractical. Aside from using a plentiful resource in the Gulf, a wheelchair powered by the sun has the added advantage of being able to charge itself during the journey.

Dr Nawal al Hosany, the director of sustainability at Masdar, said Mr Taleb was “an example of what can be accomplished with creativity and innovation”.

“His attempt to set a Guinness world record exemplifies that renewable energy has enormous possibilities,” he said. “We welcome his effort.”