The winning team at the LA games 2015. — Courtesy Photo
Eighteen-year-old Uzma Yousuf carries the heavy weight of medals around her neck, having won double gold in Cycling for Pakistan at the Special Olympics World Games in Los Angeles recently.
“I just looked down and went for it,” Yousuf reveals, a simple strategy for an outstanding athlete.
Yousuf was one of 55 athletes representing Pakistan at the Los Angeles Games. The contingent, took part in 9 disciplines and won medals in 8 with Cycling bringing in as many as six gold medals out of a total of 35.
“We competed with athletes who were taller and much stronger than us,” says Asim Zar with pride, he won gold and silver in aquatics 100m and 50m freestyle.
“Our competitors seemed to have longer dives, faster stokes and had a good built; Farah and I looked so small in comparison,” he says pointing to Farah Vohra, standing next to him with a ribbon around her neck for winning fifth place in freestyle relay.
Although their competitors seemed to have an edge in terms of their fitness and physique, the Pakistanis did not falter under pressure.
They were well equipped to deal with the stress that comes with competing at the top level. The ‘Society for the Rehabilitation of Special Children (SRSC), one of the institutes in Karachi which helped in grooming and development of the special athletes, played a major role in their preparation.
It has also prepared them for the limelight which comes after performing at the big stage.
Having been interviewed innumerable times by news channels, newspapers and radio, the children seem to have become accustomed to the fame, waiting for their turn as each of the player is called out to be recognised individually.
Ahsan Anwer won gold in tennis doubles and a bronze in singles.
Ahsan Anwer, who won gold in tennis doubles and a bronze in singles, nods excitedly at the mention of the Los Angeles trip.
“The other players seemed much older,” he says while stretching his arms high.
“But we were better.”
A 22-member team of support staff had accompanied the special athletes to the Olympics and the deputy head of the Pakistan delegation, Asma Hassan, says the experience was a life-changing experience for many of the athletes.
“We stayed at the University of Lavern in the beginning of our trip and the hosts were extremely courteous,” says Asma.
“But our children stood out amongst the rest, they were well groomed and on their best behaviour. Their performance and etiquette gave a good name to Pakistan.”
Ambreen Umair, who has been an aquatics coach at SRSC for almost a decade, says the Games were vital in the athletes taking the next step in becoming even bigger stars.
“Only Pakistan’s team was the most disciplined, all the athletes were so much at ease with everyone. They did not even ask us to make calls to their parents during the trip.”
Pakistan’s journey in LA (courtesy SOP)