An Emirati given a helping hand by the Crown Prince of Dubai to pay his Dh3 million cancer care costs is giving back by inspiring others during the Special Olympics World Games.
A beaming smile belies the hidden pain Khalifa Al Muhairi endures each day, as he continues debilitating three-week courses of chemotherapy for stage four lung cancer.
The former Dubai Police officer is part of the Special Olympics Torch relay team, touring the UAE in the build up to the Games beginning in Abu Dhabi on March 14.
He is hoping for a more hands on role during the tournament, health permitting, to repay in goodwill the financial support offered by Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed last year.
“I was in the intensive care unit in the hospital for 35 days during my recent treatment, so I did not know if I would be able to make the torch relay when I was invited to take part,” said Khalifa, 30, who had cancer diagnosed in 2013.
“Thank God, I was well enough to be released. I’m still having chemotherapy and treatment, but I want to pay my part in spreading the message you can do anything if you put your mind to it.
“I want to be a team leader and guide other athletes.”
Despite losing his left leg when the cancer spread, Mr Al Muhairi retains hopes of competing in Paralympic events in future.
For now, he is an inspirational figure for the Special Olympic athletes from around the world who have descended on the UAE.
The Games will be the largest sports and humanitarian event in the world this year.
More than 7,500 athletes and 3,000 coaches, representing more than 190 nations, are participating in 24 officially sanctioned Olympic-style sports.
So far, Mr Al Muhairi - who is married with a four-year-old son - has endured 28 cycles of chemotherapy in the last four years, in Houston, US and the UAE. He is determined to beat the disease.
“I have to keep on going until they can find an alternative treatment for me,” he said.
“I’ve tried everything. And the cancer has spread.
“My son understands what is happening. He thinks my leg is cool, and sees me as being part robot.
“He gives my life purpose, and keeps me going. Before the cancer, I would work out twice a day.
“Whenever I was down, I would exercise and led a relatively fit and healthy life, apart from casual cigarettes.”
The first ever world games to be held in the Middle East and North Africa will also be the most unified Games in the 50-year history of the Special Olympics movement, with inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities in every aspect of the event.
The torch tour has competed a two-day visit to landmarks in Dubai, including the Dubai Frame in Zabeel Park, Al Seef Village, City Walk, Dubai Mall and Burj Park.
On Monday, the flame will be carried on to Al Ain before heading to the capital on Wednesday.
Like many other athletes in the UAE this month, Mr Al Muhairi hopes his story will inspire others.
“It is important to show people that not even cancer can stop you,” he said.
“I can still live my life, I am still breathing and have a vision.
“I like to look at this blessing of life, rather than what could happen.
“When the doctors told me they would be amputating my leg, I said: Ok, let’s do it. Losing a leg is better than losing my life.
“My goal is to show this strength, to my son and to others who are taking part in the Special Olympics this month.
“I want people to be proud of the way they are, and not hide their prosthetics or disabilities under a kandoura.
“They should be showing it off on social media, taking selfies and being proud of who they are.
“Don’t limit yourself to what other people think you should be.
“If we find who we really are within ourselves, we can each achieve great things.”