Two champions of the disabled speak at World Youth Forum's Inspire.d platform

Nermine Kotb, Sunday 19 Dec 2021

The ‘Inspire.d’ platform, which was launched by the World Youth Forum (WYF), hosted two prominent disable role models in this year’s edition, including Jessica Cox, the first licensed armless pilot, and Islam Abu Ali, a disabled Egyptian swimming champion.

Jessica Cox, the first licensed armless pilot. Official Pinterest account

Jessica, who is listed in the Guinness Book of Records, was born without arms — due to a rare birth defect — and turned into an icon that inspires many young people, and she always invites them to overcome physical barriers to achieve what seems to be impossible.

She achieved her dream of flying and was also the first armless black belt in the American Taekwondo Association.

We contacted Jessica to know more about her participating in the latest edition of the WYF and how she was able, through the Inspire.d platform, to deliver her message to the world’s youth.

Jessica expressed her happiness for participating in the last edition of the WYF and for being honoured by President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi during the closing ceremony.

“I was amazed when I arrived in Egypt; not only because it was my first visit, but to see this global representation of youth. It was the largest audience that I ever spoke to,” she said.

“During the conference sessions, I felt the energy of the youth in the halls. All the talks were very inspiring, and it was great to see many young people taking a stand on the important role they play in the world and realising the need to make a change in it.”

Jessica also believes that the launch of the fourth edition of the forum, especially amid the isolation imposed by the pandemic worldwide, came as an opportunity for young people to share the commonalities and challenges they faced and are still facing over the crisis, as the forum can support them to overcome these challenges.

She believes that the forum has in turn become a platform for communication, motivation, and the transfer of positive experiences among young people.

During the pandemic, and through the social networking accounts of the WYF, she launched the ‘Possible Thinking Programme’ to motivate young people and help them overcome the challenges of COVID-19.

“I strongly suggest to everyone who wants to participate in the forum to come with an open mind, great energy, and a desire to connect with others,” Jessica said, adding that “it is important to realise as young people that we are not helpless, but strong and that the things we do can change the world!”

A hero who “does not know the impossible”

Inspire.d also received Islam Abu Ali, who represents a model for challenging the impossible. President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi honoured him at the second edition of the WYF in 2018 for his overall sporting and societal achievements related to the challenge of disability.

Unlike Jessica, Islam was not born with a physical disability, but was seriously injured in a car accident in 2012 that led to a complete disability in the lower extremities.

He did not give up, however, and decided to live regardless of his handicap. He turned his attention to sports, not only as a practitioner, but also as a defender for the rights of people with disabilities, by representing Egypt in various world championships.

Islam won his first medal in 2013, and one year later, he was able to revive the Egyptian Paralympic swimming team after a 10-year hiatus. He became the champion of the republic and the fastest Paralympic swimmer in Egypt for nine consecutive years.

In 2017, he ranked fifth in the world at the World Swimming Championships in Mexico. He also represented Egypt in the Iron Man international triathlon races, which were held in Portugal, becoming the first Egyptian with disabilities to represent Egypt in the tournament.

He then represented Egypt again in the same tournament in 2018 and 2021 in Bahrain and Barcelona.

Through his experience, Islam was able to inspire and motivate many young people to overcome difficulties, and through the Inspire.d platform at the WYF, he found a great opportunity to deliver his message to the world’s youth.

“The forum is a unique opportunity through which we meet with young people who have different ideas, experiences, and challenges, so we share them and benefit from our mutual experiences,” Islam said.

He added that the forum was an opportunity for him to “meet young people from all over the world.”

Islam said that people with disabilities are able to inspire everyone with their abilities and have the right to social inclusion and equality.

Regarding to the impact of the pandemic on the world, which is one of the main themes of the fourth edition of the WYF, Islam said that “the coronavirus pandemic has represented a great challenge for everyone, and certainly, the exchange of ideas and experiences between participants of the world’s youth on how to overcome this crisis will be a very fruitful matter.”

He affirmed that the impacts of the coronavirus crisis have affected him and everyone in his field.

“One of the biggest challenges was how to maintain your mental health and adapt psychologically with everything that happens,” Islam said, noting that challenges included staying safe and healthy amid the lockdown and working from home.

This caused many to stop exercising for a long time and some championships to either be postponed or canceled, he said.

“It was necessary to learn flexibility to overcome this global crisis.”

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