‘I'm not disabled, I just can't walk': How Dubai Marathon 2023 bronze winner rebuilt her life with sport

In 2008, she was selected for the World Junior Athletics Championships in New Jersey


Leslie Wilson Jr

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Published: Tue 14 Feb 2023, 6:56 AM

Last updated: Thu 16 Feb 2023, 8:35 PM

Adversity is her middle name.

From the time she was born, Alexandra Helbling has been forced to confront and deal with affliction in some form or the other.

Given up for adoption just three weeks after she was born in Sri Lanka, she would find love and care with a family in Switzerland, the birthplace of the Red Cross, one of the world’s oldest and best-known humanitarian organisations.

Here she would enjoy changing into pajamas, eating takeaways, and cuddling up on the couch for some quality time with her foster parents.

Her life appeared to be back on track when tragedy struck in its worst form. Now six, Alexandra was involved in a car accident. Although she had a narrow escape, she suffered paraplegia and was confined to a wheelchair for life.

Growing up, so did her resolve as she gradually began reconnecting with life and turned to sport.

And this is where her life changed forever.

With her motto, ‘I'm not disabled, just can't walk’ Alexandra turned to sports and began to play tennis.

But it was in 2003, during a holiday with her parents at a campsite in Tenerp, the small town on the shores of Lake Maggiore in the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland, she saw wheelchair athletes training at the sports facility there.

Needless to say, she was hooked and decided this was what she wanted to do for the rest of her life.

With encouragement from her parents, Alexandra started training regularly and competed in her first races.

In 2008, she was selected for the World Junior Athletics Championships in New Jersey and by 2012 she got her first taste of success when she won a silver medal in the 1,500 metre race at the European Athletics Championships in the Dutch city of Stadskanaal.

This led to her qualifying for the 2012 Paralympics in London, where she was living her dream.

A sprint and middle distance specialist, Alexandra qualified for the finals in the 100m, 400m, and 800m but it was in 2018 that she won the European Championship title over 400m in Berlin.

More recently, the girl who overcame the adversity of impairment of motor and sensory function in her lower limbs during the horrific accident, competed at the 2023 Dubai Marathon where she finished third behind World Champion Eden Rainbow-Cooper.

The organisers were so moved by her story and the courage she has shown to overcome life’s tribulations that they honoured Alexandra with a special Al Ameen Award, which included a certificate of merit and a cash prize.

Life is good if you have the spirit and tenacity to live it the Alexandra way.


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