Abu Dhabi: Syria’s athletes have put their lives at stake, their spirit far from broken by the bombs, missiles, death and destruction around the places they live and train, and driven by a desire to make the country proud. Training in the country ravaged by years of civil war is different from elsewhere, but its athletes are made of different stuff, too. The ones participating in the Special Olympics (SO) here are fine examples of that. Syria is fielding a contingent of 125 people, including 105 athletes, of which more than fifty percent are women.

“In the last few years the situation has been really bad. We have had a lot of missiles and bombs land in the training areas but we have no other option. There is no safe place in the country, so as long as you want to train you need to get out of the house,” said a SO Syria technical official. The athletes have heard of missiles landing on the tracks they train on, seen their houses getting wiped out, but they have taken everything in their stride.

What is a frightening situation for anyone can have a magnified effect on athletes with intellectual disabilities. “Watching the missiles and bombs land in the tracks, gyms and pools has led to the deterioration of the mental abilities of many athletes. When they hear gunshots or explosions, they get frightened, some start crying others are confused.” The officials cannot guarantee safety and many parents are reluctant to send their children for training.

“The parents stop sending them. You can’t convince them. We are bringing them to training at our own responsibility but we can’t guarantee that there won’t be a bombing.” Their journey to the Special Olympics is an inspirational one. The chaos back home has made even the simplest of tasks seem gruelling. “When we organise the national games or have camps we need to get the athletes from different cities together at one place. This requires us to provide them with security, which, given the situation, we can’t manage,” the official said.

“The journey from one place to another within Syria takes upto 15-16 hours when the normal travel-time is just two-three hours. The athletes get really tired and cranky. We have to get them all together and start doing activities for them to change their mood.” “We have an idea that as long as we are alive we have to work and we have to do our best. We take one step at a time. So at the time all the countries in the world have normal preparation, for us it is a huge challenge but we made it and we are very proud of it.”

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