Top UAE swimmer defies doctor who said he would never amount to anything

The Special Olympic athlete's mother hopes message of the Games will spread and people will open their hearts to wider world of talent

AL AIN, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES. 11 MARCH 2018.  UAE National Swimming Team member Omar Al Shami at the Danat Al AIn resort in preparation for the upcoming Special Olympics. (Photo: Antonie Robertson/The National) Journalist: Ramola Talwar. Section: National.
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A family’s labour of love has challenged the incorrect assessment of a doctor who ruled out any chance of a future for a child with Down syndrome.

Years ago when a doctor explained her son’s condition to Rula Al Shami, she reeled in shock at his insensitive remarks.

“The doctor told me that he will not do anything in life. He said at 10 years, he will be like a two-year-old. At that time, we had very little idea about Down syndrome. But we had faith in our hearts and minds,” said Ms Al Shami about her 15-year-old son Omer, now a promising talent in the UAE swim squad.

Then began a mother’s persistent efforts backed by strong family support. Omer’s parents and grandparents read up and researched material to find how they could help him.

As a child he was enrolled in a regular nursery and then a mainstream school. Speech therapy classes helped him enunciate better. Omer was also enrolled in swimming class at age five.

“We read a lot and we kept asking questions. I once thought he would never smile. But he is just like his three sisters. We deal with him as we deal with them,” his mother said.

The teenager methodically lists out his wide variety of interests.

“I like swimming. I like to win. I like acting. I like acting because it feels exciting,” says the Abu Dhabi International Private School pupil.

“I want to be a businessman. I want to be a swimming champ. I hope for first prize in swimming. I also like basketball, football, reading, drama.”

He has won medals for the UAE in national and regional Special Olympic games held in the country.


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After he returns from school at 2.30pm, he completes his homework and heads to the gym or for swim class. He swims over the weekend as well.

His parents encourage him to find his own path and Omer often informs them of events he wants to participate in both within and outside school.

“He has a strong personality and self-confidence. He likes to participate in many things. He likes to make speeches on the stage,” said his proud mother.

Part of the 180-member UAE squad for the Mena Special Olympics, Omer will be a force to contend with as he keeps training, said his coach Jamal Nasser.

“He swims with the correct technique and he will increase his speed and power,” Mr Nasser said.

The two-week training camp is a new concept for his mother who was with him in Al Ain leading up to the Games.

“It is tough training for him and all this is new for me also. Omer is like a school. I’m learning every day,” Ms Al Shami said.

One of the objectives of the Special Olympics is for athletes to find confidence and fulfilment through the power of sport. It also aims to inspire people across communities to open their heart to a wider world of talent and potential.

Ms Al Shami’s hope is that this message will spread across the country and the region.

Raising Omer has been educational for the family. Through the Special Olympics, his mother hopes the country will understand the gifts of people with special needs.

“He is different from others and not because of Down syndrome. He is different because he can do so many activities. The most important thing that is special are his abilities. These children want a chance to let their ability show. They should be encouraged,” she said.