Shaikha Al Shaiba might not be a name that we have heard about much in the sporting world, but is incredible! The Bahraini, with an arm only, does what most abled persons wouldn’t, besides believing in herself and pushing boundaries to emerge as an inspiring and unstoppable para-athlete. She was in India recently to attend the International Women’s Conference at the Art of Living International Centre in Bengaluru and made time to speak to NT BUZZ
At the age of two, a medical fault led to Shaikha Al Shaiba’s right arm being amputated. Not only did the disability come in between her growing up, but she had to struggle with discrimination, and rejection, through her childhood and adolescent years. The Bahraini athlete had a turning point in life when she decided to stop wearing the prosthetic arm, which gave a boost to her confidence, making her believe that nothing is impossible.
Today, she takes on the most intense physical challenges and triathlons like Ironman and also obstacle-course races like the Spartan Race with one arm. In April 2016 Al Shaiba’s friend encouraged her to join their team in participating in the Spartan Race Bahrain. Contestants had to run, climb and crawl through nets over an intense 15 kilometre-plus course with more than 25 obstacles.
An ambassador for Spartan Race in Bahrain, she went on to sign up for the Ironman 70.3 in Bahrain last year, following which she competed in the ITU World Triathlon Abu Dhabi. The para-triathlete trains independently for close to 10 hours every week and is motivated in the field of multi-discipline sports, besides inspiring others to follow in her steps.
Excerpts from an interview
Q: How much credit would you give your parents, siblings, tutors and friends for supporting and motivating you?
Firstly I would give my mother full credit for the making me the person who I am now. My siblings, cousins and friends have been my main motivation and support.
Q: You are a businesswoman too. How do you balance your passion for sports and business?
When there is will there is a way. I try as much as I can to balance my working hours with my sports. I do so and sacrifice my social life and reduce my outings with my friends.
Q: How did you plan for your participation in the Spartan Race Bahrain (Super) where contestants have to run, climb and crawl through nets over an intense 13kilometre-plus course with more than 25 obstacles?
I hate planning (laughs), I only use to do cross fit classes in one of the gyms in Bahrain and when I heard about the race which was more like an adventure, I decided to take that challenge and participate in the race. After that, I wasn’t very satisfied. I thought that I can do better and much more, so I decided to take another step and participate in the 70.3 Ironman race (triathlon) which took place in my country on November 25, 2017 for a distance of 1.5 kilometres (swimming), 90 kilometres (cycling) and 21 kilometres (running) which I thankfully managed to complete before the cut-off time.
Q: Do you meet people who apologise to you for having been not very hopeful earlier about your wonderful feats?
Yes, a lot!
Q: You had started wearing a prosthetic arm in your early years. What made you discard it?
I decided to accept the fact that I don’t have a hand and have peace within me and to take a step forward to accept the people’s stares, comments or even bullying and move forward. Now, none of things mentioned above really matter.
Q: You decided to push yourself beyond the limit. Who was your role model?
Our king’s son- His Highness Shaikh Nasser Bin Hamad Al Khalifa was my role model in sports.
Q: You once said, “Disability is not when you have a missing part of your body, it’s when you stop and limit yourself.” Isn’t it true of able-bodied persons as well?
Yes. I think disability is not losing a limb or being on a wheelchair. It sometimes comes in an internal way where an able body might have it too. My disability was external which can be noticed by people so I decided to change negativity to a positive view.
Q: Did you have to go through the trauma of being different during your schooling years?
Of course, and a lot! But when I was in Grade 8, I decided to take the step and love who I am and progress in my life.
Q: People in your country and abroad look up to you as their role model. What is the message you would like to give them?
If you have a dream, pursue it even if you fail once or twice or more than that. One day eventually your dream will come true. Just go for it and don’t allow anyone to discourage you because it’s your dream and you are doing it for yourself.