Dubai: Wheelchair-bound expat takes on the world’s largest run at Expo City

People run together at the same time from all over the globe to support the cause for spinal cord research

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Photos by Neeraj Murali
Photos by Neeraj Murali

Nandini Sircar

Published: Sun 7 May 2023, 7:27 PM

Last updated: Sun 7 May 2023, 11:47 PM

Persevering through his own challenges, 23-year-old Kareem Kaqbani may be bound to a wheelchair but his spirits remain undeterred.

Although he is paralysed legs-down, the Lebanese expat who participated in the Wings for Life World Run 2023 that was held at Expo City Dubai was among the few wheelchair racers on Sunday afternoon.

The run is considered to be the world’s biggest running event. People run together at the same time from all over the globe to support the cause for spinal cord research. The race’s entry fees go towards finding a cure for spine related issues.

Despite living with a disability since birth, Kareem’s endurance has not let his condition bring him down. By maintaining a positive mindset and focusing on what is possible rather than what may seem impossible, this Dubai expat is a great example of how people can overcome adversity and thrive.

“I am participating in this marathon for the first time. I decided to participate because I felt people with different abilities can do whatever they want," says Kareem, who shifted to Dubai in 2020 and now lives here with his family.

When asked about how he prepared for the marathon, Kareem replies, “I [went to the] gym and physiotherapy sessions so that I could participate in this race. I do squats and pushups. I try to walk with my cane. I try to do boxing as well.”

Kareem, who is a graphic designer, is also an enthusiastic Instagram user who frequently shares posts on the social media platform.

“I wake up and check my social media, Instagram daily. I decided to join this because I wanted to experience something new. I want to show people that even if you don’t have legs or hands, you can still do anything you want.”

He adds, “I was born like this. This condition is very rare. I have half paralysis, so I cannot stand up. I have come here with my neighbour and best friend today.”

Giving hope to everyone, Kareem, who exudes a pleasing demeanour, says with a smile, “No matter what condition you may have, don’t close yourself, you can do anything you want. You can make your dream come true, but you have to work on yourself. If you feel like doing something, go do it, don’t judge yourself even before trying. Try and experience new things in life.”

Among the participants was Kiwi expat in the UAE Gary Saifoloi, who was there with his wife and two sons.

Hailing the initiative, which is conducted under the theme ‘Run for those who can't’, Gary avers, “We all decided to sign up because it’s a great initiative that keeps everyone active. One of our friends on a WhatsApp group decided to do this together. So, we are all here.”

As hundreds of people gathered around the registration desk, wearing white Tshirts sporting the logo, Gary’s toddler wrestled out of the pram, wobbling on his tip toes, eager to join the participants.

“We are always pretty active as a family and take the kids out quite often. But this kind of activity is a first. It brings awareness about spinal cord disorders as it aims to raise charity for research in this field. It’s always good to have a purpose through these kinds of events and it’s important for us to show our support,” he adds.

Similarly, Lebanese expat in Dubai Najib Zouein was participating with his seven-year-old daughter.

“This is a noble race, something…that’s meant to improve the life of others. All the contribution will go for research, hoping that one day a cure for spinal related issues will be found. This race is unique. Think of it as a moving finish line. It’s all done via the Wings For Life World Run App and your result is not how fast you run, but how far you run. You are eliminated once the virtual Catcher Car catches up with you in the app.”

“I got my daughter Nour here because she likes doing sports and she is a professional gymnast. She has always been interested in such events. We’ve participated in cycling events as well. All thanks to the Dubai government who keep encouraging people to maintain good health,” adds Najib.

Reiterating how people feel their contribution to an important cause to caring for others by participating in such world events, were around 100 employees of Dubai Holding.

Pakistani expat and an employee of Dubai Holding Mohammed Ali says, “We are a group of colleagues representing different divisions of the company, and we are participating in the World Run to support those who are unable to run. Although we have participated in various marathons before, this is our first time running in the World Run, and we are all thrilled. We have trained hard for this race, regularly working out on the treadmill, running on tracks, and engaging in various exercises after work every day.”


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