Run­ning for all

Over 500 par­tic­i­pants with dis­abil­i­ties took part in this year’s Bor­neo In­ter­na­tional Marathon to en­cour­age a more in­clu­sive so­ci­ety for all.

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IT was the first ever marathon for Sharone Stephen, 14, a girl with cere­bral palsy, a neu­ro­log­i­cal dis­or­der which af­fects her body move­ment and mus­cle co­or­di­na­tion, but that didn’t stop her from push­ing through and fin­ish­ing the run.

It was a marathon un­like any other. Or­gan­ised by the Kin­a­balu Run­ning Club, in part­ner­ship with Unicef and var­i­ous civil so­ci­ety or­gan­i­sa­tions, the 2017 Bor­neo In­ter­na­tional Marathon (BIM) en­cour­aged par­tic­i­pa­tion of peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties.

“For the tenth edi­tion this year, BIM is even more mean­ing­ful with the part­ner­ship with Unicef,” said Datuk Dr Heng Aik Cheng, pres­i­dent of the Kin­a­balu Run­ning Club.

“We were able to pro­mote the in­clu­sion of chil­dren with dis­abil­i­ties and help them re­alise their full po­ten­tial through sports.”

The marathon also in­cluded a spe­cial 3km fun run for chil­dren – with and with­out dis­abil­i­ties – and their par­ents, to pro­vide an op­por­tu­nity for chil­dren like Sharone to par­tic­i­pate.

“My dream for the fu­ture is to see a world free of bar­ri­ers,” she said.

“I want to par­tic­i­pate in ev­ery­thing my friends do – as if I were one of them. This marathon shows me how that world can be pos­si­ble.”

The start of the run was timed so that those run­ning in the full and half marathon would merge with the spe­cial needs par­tic­i­pants to­wards the end of the run – all in the spirit of in­clu­siv­ity.

“In­clu­sive so­ci­eties are sus­tain­able so­ci­eties,” said Unicef Rep­re­sen­ta­tive in Malaysia Mar­i­anne Clark-Hat­tingh.

“A so­ci­ety can­not be just and fair un­less all chil­dren are in­cluded, and chil­dren with dis­abil­i­ties can­not be in­cluded un­less the en­vi­ron­ment around them changes to sup­port their par­tic­i­pa­tion.”

Hard­core marathoner Sam­bri Pu­tat took part in the 42km route on his wheel­chair, and he ex­pe­ri­enced that sense of in­clu­siv­ity first-hand.

“I could feel my wheel­chair veer­ing to one side,” he said, as the wheels started to be­come un­aligned. “I had to stop, but luck­ily there was another man in a wheel­chair to help.”

The man loaned Sam­bri his set of hex keys to straighten the wheels, and the two car­ried on to the ap­plause of the run­ners around them.

“It felt great,” he said. “Be­cause they’re able-bod­ied run­ners, and to be ac­cepted by them feels amaz­ing. Ev­ery time I rolled past some­one, they would clap.”

No man left behind

A study com­mis­sioned by Unicef last year on knowl­edge, at­ti­tudes, and prac­tices showed that there is still lim­ited knowl­edge about the ac­tual causes of dis­abil­ity.

It also showed that stigma and dis­crim­i­na­tion is real at dif­fer­ent lev­els for chil­dren, par­ents and fam­i­lies of chil­dren with dis­abil­i­ties.

“The big­gest bar­rier to chil­dren’s in­clu­sion in so­ci­ety is our own ig­no­rance and mis­un­der­stand­ing, and in some cases, to­tal mis­con­cep­tions sur­round­ing dis­abil­ity,” said Clark-Hat­tingh.

It wasn’t dif­fi­cult to find dis­abled peo­ple with tales of dis­crim­i­na­tion at BIM.

“My child­hood was tough,” said Sam­bri. “Kids would say things like, ‘Oh you can’t walk, you can’t play with us’. It made me feel ashamed and em­bar­rassed.”

“When we fear or shun the un­known, or those that are dif­fer­ent, then th­ese chil­dren are sub­jected to bul­ly­ing for be­ing dif­fer­ent,” ex­plained ClarkHat­tingh.

Also shar­ing her ex­pe­ri­ence of be­ing bul­lied as a child was par­tially-blind Par­a­lympian Feli­cia Mikat, who was os­tracised by her peers grow­ing up.

“They said things like ‘You can’t play with us, your eyes are weird’,” she said. “But then it be­came so com­mon, I grew to ig­nore what they said.”

Feli­cia man­aged to over­come her dif­fi­cult child­hood, even­tu­ally win­ning three

gold medals at the 2015 Aseansean Para Games in Sin­ga­pore.

Ath­let­ics may have been Fen Feli­cia’s refuge in her youth, but it’s not’s now her strength. Both Feli­cia and SamSam­bri are us­ing sports to take on the neg­a­tive stereo­types that fu­elled their child­hood ex­clu­sions.

“I want to prove to all ‘nor­mal peo­ple’ that what­ever they can do, , we can do too,” said Sam­bri. “We’re not all just sit­ing ting around at home wait­ing to be taken care of.”

Chances and op­por­tu­ni­ties

Sam­bri is a vol­un­teer with Cheshire Home Sabah (CHS), which helped or­gan­ism BIM.

“The marathon is very im­por­tant said CHS re­gional man­ager Jennifer Liew. “It’s an event that sheds light on – and helps ad­vo­cate for – a lot of the work we and other NGOs are do­ing.”

Ac­cord­ing to her, there are still a lot of build­ings and fa­cil­i­ties in Malaysia which aren’t friendly to­wards dis­abled peo­ple.

“For ex­am­ple, a lot of build­ings are with­out ramps, proper toi­lets for the dis­abled, abled, and with un­clear sig­nage

For now, Cheshire Home is do­ing the best it can to ex­em­plify the spirit of in­clu­siv­ity that BIM pro­motes, by tack­ling ling real-life is­sues.

It pro­vides early ed­u­ca­tion, skills train­ing, and fam­ily sup­port for dis­abled peo­ple, giv­ing dis­abled peo­ple op­por­tu­ni­ties ni­ties to learn young.

Thanks to the home’s ef­fort Sam­bri was able to get an ed­u­ca­tion, and sub­sea quently, a job work­ing as a main­te­nance man in a ho­tel. Be­fore that, he could barely read, hav­ing missed out on school due to a lack of wheel­chair-friendly fa­cil­i­ties

bled “It’s peo­pleno longera place enoughto stay,”to ust give disay,”said Liew. “Dis­abled peo­ple are part of so­ci­ety, they aren’t go­ing any­where, and if that part of so­ci­ety isn’t brought up to be in­de­ing­togrowasa pen­dant, how are you go­ing to grow as a coun­try?”

At the end of the run, Sam­bri and Feli­cia both re­ceived their fin­isher medals als, along­side 500 par­tic­i­pants with di­s­aing bil­i­ties.

“We all learned some­thing to­day,” said Cheng. “The run­ners learned about chilwhat dren with dis­abil­i­ties and what they can do; and the chil­dren them­selves built their self-es­teem and over­came ob­sta­cles to their par­tic­i­pa­tion.”

The or­gan­is­ers are al­ready look­ing to pro­mote next year’s marathon as an in­clu­sive event and at­tract run­ners with dis­abil­i­ties from all over the re­gion. Watch the full video fea­tur­ing high­lights from the Bor­neo In­ter­na­tional Marathon at rage.com.my.

The Bor­neo In­ter­na­tional Marathon (BIM) in­cluded a 3km fun run for chil­dren with and with­out dis­abil­i­ties, giv­ing every­one an op­por­tu­nity to par­tic­i­pate in the in­ter­na­tional event. — Pho­tos: NORMIMIE DIUN/The

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