Diagnosed at birth with Cerebral Palsy, Ahmad Al-Mutari’s life has always been lived to the full. He’s disabled? No. Differently abled, that’s all. Whichever path we choose in life, or indeed whichever path life chooses for us, we compete within our own arena. In 2016 he competed for Kuwait at the Rio Paralympics Games. His sport? Wheelchair racing. What happened? He won gold.
Perhaps it takes no more and no less determination to succeed as a Paralympian than an Olympian. Why should it? Competition is competition. Train hard, you’ll do well. It’s as true for an able-bodied sprinter as it is for a wheelchair racer. The way his body functions certainly gives Ahmad no reason to feel sorry for himself, he says “There’s really no difference between me and any other person. What we are is from God’s will. The way my body is – in both strengths and weaknesses – is a blessing. Where I’m weaker than others in some ways, it’s compensated by strength in other areas”.
He’s driven in many ways. As an athlete, he strives to improve his fitness, to compete at an ever-higher level, and bring down his racing times. He’s passionate about inclusion – “As a member of the Kuwaiti Sports Club for the Disabled (KSCD), I’ve been greatly supported in achieving the maximum. If it’s been good for me, it can be as good for other disabled people”. Indeed, he makes a point of introducing himself to other disabled people he meets when out and about. Sharing his story with them inspires many to follow his lead and join the Club. It’s not for everyone to become an Olympic athlete – fewer still to be gold medallists – but he’s keen to ensure that everyone is presented with the same opportunities that he himself has had.
Ultimately, however, Ahmad insists he doesn’t only compete for himself. He competes for Kuwait. He constantly reminds people that his records always show him as ‘Ahmad Al-Mutairi – Kuwait’. This is an identifier he is fiercely proud of.
His passion for inclusion, and love for his country, is not equally reflected through his country’s love of – or even interest in – Paralympic sports. Although his achievement was warmly welcomed and congratulated by no greater supporter than His Highness The Emir and other leaders within Kuwait, including National Assembly Speaker Marzouq Al-Ghanem and KDSC President Shafi Al-Hajeri as well as friends and family, the silence from other compatriots and large sections of the national media has been deafening. It is a reflection on the poor social maturity of a country when Paralympic sports are not given similar status to Olympic sports – particularly when the brother returns home with a gold medal.
Ahmad is undaunted. He’ll continue his own three-wheeled trail. He sees continued interest and growth at KSCD and, to be fair to those in Kuwait who have shown little interest so far in his achievements, it must be said that it wasn’t so long ago that, even in Europe and the States, Paralympic and disabled sports news was rarely deemed important enough for more than a cursory paragraph or two somewhere amongst lower-league football results.
One aspect of his sport that intrigues the most, and this is a key difference between his and able-bodied sport, is in its technological advances. Clearly, his wheelchair is a critical component in his success. His chair are his legs. It is not uncommon for a state-of-the-art wheelchair to cost upwards of $15,000. A wheel (one wheel…) can set a racer back $1,500. How much for a pair of Nike running shoes? Here, though, Ahmad benefits from the essential and generous support of KSDC through the supply of his equipment. He’s also coached by the Club, using the latest science-based techniques and practices.
As inspirational athletes go, we can think of few with higher credentials than Ahmad Al-Mutairi. Whilst the temptation exists for society to admire Ahmad for his achievements as a disabled athlete, a true coming-of-age will have occurred when he is admired for his achievements simply as an athlete, on par with able-bodied peers.