Opinion and Editorial

The Paralympic story – supporting our athletes as they embrace challenges

Dr Abdulla Mohammad Alrahoomi/Dubai
Filed on September 20, 2021

Being part of the largest Paralympic Games in the world is in itself an achievement.

Being a medical doctor of a team is a noble duty, but representing a country’s team is even more noble and carries a heavier responsibility.

Before and during the Paralympic Games in Tokyo, I had the pleasure of working with an amazing team of 12 athletes.

The UAE’s team had athletes with conditions including paraplegia, cerebral palsy, amputation and dwarfism. They proved they were elite athletes during the Paralympics, earning three medals (one gold, one silver and one bronze) despite being such a small team, and raising the total number of medals won by the UAE since its first participation 1992 in the Paralympics from 19 to 22.

It is particularly gratifying that with Emirati Women’s Day (August 25) coinciding with one day’s competition, four of our athletes were women, with two already champions in prior games.

I am proud of our women athletes as they haven’t only shown that they are hardworking and high achievers, but they have also proved to the community and the world that their challenges are not a limitation to their success and achievements - they are able to overcome these through practice and hard work.

The practice of sports with a disability is a medical challenge, as much as it is challenging in other aspects of sports and performance. I am proud of the achievements of our athletes who managed to surpass such difficulties to raise the UAE’s flag during the largest Paralympic event in the world.

Many of the challenges we face as doctors are in stabilising the participants’ medical condition and improving the performance within their current capacities. The necessity of having a medical doctor with each Paralympics team is unquestionable as medical files need to be reviewed extensively and a complete overview of an athlete’s health is necessary.

The responsibility of the medical doctor and team is to make the right diagnoses and identify medical issues among the athletes prior to the Paralympics. This will ensure, among other things, the correct classification of the athletes according to the disability and medical complexity, which is important since these classifications are at the core of fair competition. The classifications ensure equality and fairness through providing a system that ensures competitions are won through skill, fitness, power, endurance, tactical ability and mental focus, and minimise the impact of disability on the activity.

Another important factor is to review the medications and apply for therapeutic-use exemptions in case any medications require verification.

Team doctors also play an important role by ensuring that the athletes’ health and disability are under control, and by that, I mean proper management of disabilities and related medical issues. These could include pressure ulcers from prosthetics or wheelchair use; bowel and bladder management in spinal cord injuries; spasticity management in athletes with spastic paraplegia, cerebral palsy and stroke, and many other issues arising from disability.

It is also important to screen for any overuse injuries to avoid further disability and injury and also to improve performance.

In light of all these challenges, and when looking at the achievements of our athletes and their dedication, I believe that it might be the right time to establish a National Institute of Sport, Exercise and Performance. The aim would be to enhance athletic results through proper channels of training, focusing on research and development, education, and most importantly, the creation of continuity of care.

This continuity of care could be the result of establishing an up-to-date medical centre in this institute, which would help in creating a unified facility for athletes including medical records, investigations and imaging centre, and a rehabilitation centre. This could also include a research centre, aiming at identifying gaps and deficits in athletes’ health and performance and working on improvements.

I am proud of the achievements that the UAE Paralympians have achieved. Congratulations to our medal winners who have put tremendous efforts in training and preparing for the games, and congratulations to all who participated. Being part of the largest Paralympic Games in the world is in itself an achievement.

I will always be behind such athletes to ensure that they are safe, ready and on the top of their performance, as I truly believe that a disability is not a limitation, it is simply a challenge!

Dr Abdulla Mohammad Alrahoomi is consultant, physical medicine and rehabilitation at Healthpoint

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