Mixing daily training sessions with outdoor activities helps keep athletes geared up for the upcoming Special Olympics Mena Games.
More than 100 UAE athletes have been in training for the past two weeks at different venues across Al Ain, from bowling arenas in malls to swimming pools in hotels, arenas and grounds within clubs.
Khaled Al Hajari, who is part of the country’s athletics team, said this year's competition is exciting.
Asked if he is nervous about squaring off against more than 1,000 athletes at the MENA games, he shrugs, “It’s okay. It makes me strong, more and more strong.”
The heat kept the players working out in the gym during the day with football, swimming and athletics sessions scheduled for the evening.
Basketball and bowling were among the sports where the athletes practiced twice a day.
Maryam Al Hosseni has won medals in local and international games in bowling.
“I feel good when bowling. Yes, I want to win for the UAE,” said Maryam, smiling as she scored a strike.
Her mother, Zafarana Khamiz, said other citizens will understand the effort the athletes have put in once the games begin.
“They will see their skills and it will change attitudes. There are people who don’t know how capable they are, but when they read about their achievements and see them, they will understand.”
Swim coach Jamal Nasser blows kisses to his team as they head out after a workout for light refreshments.
“You have to first be their friend, someone who makes them happy. Only then will they exercise and repeat the same exercises and perform well,” he said before evening training in Al Ain.
The teams stretch before running on the treadmill and also in a nearby park.
Some groups were taken to the Al Ain Zoo for a much needed break over the weekend.
Mr Nasser plans a trip to Jebel Hafeet for his team before they head out to Abu Dhabi for the competition.
“Some of them don’t understand the concept of time so they keep asking. They want to know, ‘Why delay? Why so late? When we will play?’” Nasser said.
“They understand they are a delegation representing the country.”
Safia Al Shateri who coordinates schedules with parents and coaches spoke of the rising excitement.
“There is excitement building up for the players and also for us. The teams are ready. This is all also a preparation for 2019,” said Al Shateri, who works with the Abu Dhabi club, in reference to the World Games to be hosted next year by Abu Dhabi – a first for the region.
This year's Special Olympics Mena Games will mark a regional games record with 40 per cent of visiting teams made up of women.
Sixty-four of the 180 athletes representing the UAE will be women, and they will take part in 16 sports.
More than 429 female athletes and 168 female trainers from 31 countries will participate in athletics, swimming, badminton, basketball, bocce, bowling, cycling, equestrian, football, gymnastics, power lifting, tennis, table tennis, roller skating, handball and volleyball.
Basketball will have the most women at 90, followed by 70 in athletics and 44 swimmers.
“Now the Special Olympics is coming to Abu Dhabi, we all need to understand the importance of getting involved,” said Emirati Houriya Taheri, the first Arab woman to receive a professional coaching licence and the UAE women’s national football team coach.
“People with intellectual disabilities are achieving so much and they should be recognized and supported. We as women have this beautiful opportunity to play for our country and for ourselves. Despite all the stereotypes and old family traditions, we can still be part of positive change.”
More than 1,000 athletes from 31 countries will take part in the MENA IX Games in eight venues in the capital, including ADNEC, Zayed Sports City, Yas Marina Circuit, NYUAD, Officer’s Club, Mubadala IPC Arena, Al Jazira Sports Club and Al Forsan Club.