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Monday, 17 July 2017 | MYT 12:00 AM

Happy and proud to overcome obstacles

It WAS a rare and inspirational sight as special needs athletes go head to head in a race filled with obstacles.

For the first time in Malaysia, Spartan Race Malaysia, which organises obstacle races, introduced a Special Spartans race for special needs athletes.

The event, held at the Nexus International School in Putrajaya, catered to special needs participants from ages four to 21 years. Initially, the organisers were expecting a small turnout.

“I had set a target of 50 and I wasn’t sure we could reach it as I felt we may get about 20 entries. By the third week of registration, a flood of entries came in and we ended up with 100 participants,” said Special Spartans race coordinator Debbie Moore.

Smiles all around as parents and siblings help their athletes across the bumpy course.
Smiles all around as parents and siblings help their athletes across the bumpy course.

“The turnout shows that a lot of parents have been wanting to include their children in a lot of sports but have never been given the chance,” added Spartan Race Malaysia festival director Wong Li Li.

“They were so happy and proud their kids could play with water and roll in the mud, some for the very first time.”

The race route went through rough, uneven ground and even featured a fire truck spraying water to get participants wet and scrambling through slippery grounds. There was spear throwing and a target board to throw water balloons at as well.

The Special Spartans Malaysia course was customised for special athletes. The event offered all the excitement of a Spartan Race, which included climbing, hiking and crawling through mud.

The modified course had a support system for a wide range of medical, fitness and emotional needs. The special athletes were also given time to acclimatise themselves to the environment and there were quiet areas that offered a break from the action.

According to Wong, most of the participants were those with Down Syndrome though there were others with cerebral palsy, Asperger syndrome and autism.

All the finishers were given a T-shirt and medal.
All the finishers were given a T-shirt and medal.

Despite their disabilities and with the support of parents, partners and volunteers, the athletes finished their races and were given medals and a T-shirt each.

Despite the heat, the mood was jovial as the athletes trudged through the circuit, some in wheelchairs, some in prams and others walking and running.

“The glory is in crossing the finish line. Everyone ends up a winner,” said Moore, a parent of a Downs Syndrome child.

“The objective was to overcome the obstacles with the help of parents and volunteers.

“I truly believe that all the special needs youths out here can do wonderful things when given the opportunity.

“It is the push that most parents and their children need to open up paths, trails and roads that build great Spartans,” said Wong.

Special Spartans Race organisers (left) Wong and Debbie and her two children
Special Spartans Race organisers (left) Wong and Debbie and her two children

“Even though some of them are 21, their developmental age will only be half of that. So you have to let them experience what childhood should have been for them,” she added.

Special Spartans Malaysia was a new category of Spartan Race Malaysia, part of what was claimed as the world’s leading obstacle race company and dedicated to the health and well-being of Malaysian youth.

In some ways, it was a unique race that brought children with intellectual, developmental and physical disabilities and those with cognitive, vocational delays into the fun-filled, confidence-boosting realm of sport.

Wong said another Special Spartans Race was being scheduled for October and she hoped more special needs athletes would take part then.