On 5th February, 2017, 3000 people woke up on a Sunday morning to run, walk or participate in a wheelchair at the Lakson Investments 2nd SOP Unified Marathon. The event was organized by Special Olympics, an organization dedicated to transforming the lives of children and adults with intellectual disabilities through the power of sports. They provide year-round training in more than 10 Olympic sports to enable their participants to experience the joy and benefits of an inclusive life.
In order to promote its cause, as well as to celebrate Kashmir Day, Special Olympics collaborated with Defense Housing Authority and Lakson Investments to put together the 2nd Unified Marathon. Following the success of the 1st Marathon last year, which had approximately 1800 participants, this year the number increased to 3000, as the 2nd Unified Marathon aimed to create avenues of inclusion for people with or without disabilities, who ran or walked alongside each other, promoting inclusion and removing stigmas attached with disability. With chief guests including Secretary DHA Brigadier Naeem Azhar Lone, Chief Minister Sindh, Administrator DHA’s wife, as well as actors Sarwat Gillani and Fahad Mirza, there was a strong amount of star power to endorse SOP’s cause.
Upon entering the Moin Khan Academy in Karachi, one was met with people of all ages wearing different bibs according to their race category and making their way to the track. The excitement in the air was palpable and the large crowd proved that the early morning did nothing to dampen the spirits of the participants. Last year’s event had two race categories: 5 KM and 10 KM. However, as the event became bigger and better this year, the race categories were increased to four, with the addition of the half marathon and a new category exclusively for children aged below 13: The 700M Kids’ Dash. Usman Iqbal, Saleem and Hatim emerged as the winners of the new and toughest category, the half marathon.
“The whole idea behind this marathon is to bring together people with and without disabilities in a manner that promotes health, inclusion and community building”, said Sarah Amin Ali, Project Director for Young Athletes at SOP and a chief organizer of the event. “People with disabilities have such low attendance at public events that we often fail to acknowledge their struggles. This event is tailored to ensure that we work towards inclusion by making public events accessible to these people”.
The entire SOP team, as well as the army of volunteers at their disposal, must be lauded for carrying out the event so professionally. As tired as the participants were, particularly those who ran the half marathon, many of them will return next year to do it all over again. The 2nd Unified Marathon has set the bar high and will have us expecting even more from next year’s event!
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