Muscat: Oman’s first woman scuba diver with special needs, who is also a javelin and discus thrower, graced a different podium recently — when she graduated from university.
A medical error in childhood that affected Raya Al Abri’s sight and movement has, however, not impeded her vision for the future. The first Omani with special needs in the diving discipline, Raya hopes for a bright future, both in sports and her career.
A little more than a month after she won the bronze medal in the Paralympics Games , Raya landed a bachelor’s degree in archives and records management from the Middle East College.
Raya, who was born in Ibri, likes to describe herself as “Not disabled student, but a student with a disability.”
“In 2012, I studied foundation at Waljat College. I was always thinking about doing a major in archives and records management. So, I decided to move to Middle East College to get the certificate.
“I am proud of myself. I worked hard to get this certificate. My mother was my real motivation. One day she told me that she felt sorry for me, because she was uneducated and could not teach me properly. When I heard my mother say this, I promised her that I would study and get a certificate like my brothers and sisters.
“My disability was because of a childhood paralysis, which I got because of a wrong injection, when I was two. However, having a disability was never a disadvantage for me, unless I am competing with normal people,” she remarked.
Raya was recently awarded a bronze medal in the first West Asian Para Games 2017 .
Raya began her sports journey when she met a group of disabled people and joined them for outdoor activities. “After I joined the group, I began to see things from a completely different perspective and look at characters in a different way,” she noted.
After she took up diving, she was selected to the Oman Paralympics Games diving team, where she trained for seven years giving her an advantage over her peers. In 2010, she took part in her first international diving event in Tunisia. She did not get any medals, but she dived longer.
Raya was honoured by the Ministry of Sports Affairs for winning three silver medals in the Gulf Women’s Championship in 2010. In 2012, she represented the national disabled team at the Kuwait Disabled Championship. She won a gold medal in javelin throw and shot put. Furthermore, she won three silver medals in Women’s Championship in UAE.
Her message is simple and clear. “Playing a sport may not take you to Paralympics, but it is good, not just for the disabled, but for every person. Playing a sport is important not only for your physical health, but mental health as well,” she stressed.