Muscat: Her radiating smile hides a story of struggle from an early age. The physical challenges she overcame to become an international para athlete is an example of extraordinary grit, determination and the desire to excel.
Meet Oman’s Ghaliya Al Jabri, who has won quite a few medals at the GCC and Arab level as a para athlete but is now raring to make waves at the forthcoming RS Venture SCS Para Sailing World Championship later this month, the first time an exclusively para sailing championship being held in Oman.
This would be Ghaliya’s second participation at the worlds and the para sailor is excited and confident of bringing laurels for the Sultanate of Oman at home.
The worlds will be held at the Barcelo Mussanah Resort from 20-27 November with 36 teams from 15 countries expected to compete in the RS Venture boat, designed specifically for people with disabilities, including members of Oman Sail’s SailFree team.
Ghaliya is part of SailFree team, which is part of the ambitious and first of its kind initiative for para sailing in the Middle East region launched by Oman Sail in 2019.
In less than three years, during the pandemic no less, Ghaliya has already been part of the national team at the Hansa 303 World Championships in Palermo, Italy, in October 2021. For the 40-year-old, she defies her age with her enthusiasm and efforts as a para sailor.
What makes her achievements exemplary is Ghaliya’s transition into a sailor from a para athlete.
For a woman athlete who was bringing medals at GCC and Arab championships at regular intervals, it was in 2019 during a presentation of Oman Sail’s SailFree programme that got her hooked to the sport.
Suffering from aquaphobia, Ghaliya admitted that her family and friends were stunned when she announced her intentions to take up the sport.
Ghaliya said: “I was determined to do it. I wanted to overcome my fear of water and prove a point. The coaches and trainers at Oman Sail were very cooperative and soon after having my first lessons, I started enjoying it.
“There was a thorough screening and selection process and though age was not on my side, my burning desire to pick up the new sport impressed them and they included me in the national team. My prior experience as a para athlete definitely helped my case for selection.”
Having taken to sailing as a fish to water, Ghaliya’s rise in the sport has been exceptional. During the recent Arab Sailing Championships held in Mussanah last month, she along with her team-mate Malik Al Qartoubi claimed a creditable gold in their class.
They will team up again at the worlds in para category. Ghaliya is a sportsperson who has been bound to a wheelchair since the age of eight. She was administered a wrong injection when she was just eight months old, which led to her suffering from Poliomyelitis.
Born in a large family of eight sisters and one brother, Ghaliya’s struggle from an early age only inspired her to become stronger. She acknowledged that while growing she experienced lack of understanding from people towards physically challenged and also the lack of infrastructure for the disabled.
In a chat with Times of Oman, Ghaliya said: “As a kid I wanted to do a lot of cycling but was unable to do as I had to use support from the age of eight. My dreams were shattered but not my belief that I could still be an achiever. So, after finishing my school studies in Kuwait, I took up a job as a receptionist at a clinic of the Diwan of Royal Court in 2003.
“My interest in sports was rekindled when I saw a local marathon race on Oman TV with a runner on wheelchair in 2008. That triggered my passion for sports and I soon joined the national para athletics squad and won medals at GCC, Arab and West Asia championships in javelin, shot put and disc throw.”
As an RS Venture sailor, Ghaliya along with another woman sailor, Rayyan Al Mujaini, are breaking the boundaries of para sailing in the region and showing there is a pathway for everyone in sailing.
Ghaliya said: “When I began sailing, it was a completely new thing to do, but what I liked most about it is that it gives me motivation and self-challenge. It helps me in unlocking opportunities to reach new horizons. I have learned a lot from my participation in international competitions and I am proud to represent Oman at the forthcoming RS Venture Worlds.”
Ghaliya has restricted mobility but she didn’t let that stop her from living life to the fullest. Her sporting journey was not easy. For a para athlete things never are easy, be it the society’s reluctance or other hardships.
However, Ghaliya, who celebrates her birthday in a week’s time, refuses to be bogged down with the physical challenges and gives a big smile as she signs off.
“Hurdles don’t stop me in my pursuit of achieving my dreams. I want to bring a medal at the worlds this month,” she said with a thumbs up sign.