The Road to the Paralympic Games

The Road to the Paralympic Games

Willpower is not an easy skill to master. If there’s anyone who can inspire you to let nothing stop you from doing what you love, it is 22-year-old Hassan Dia, Lebanon’s aspiring Paralympic handcycling athlete.

An athlete dreams
Born with a spinal cord injury and a condition known as spina bifida, Dia has unquestionably and irresistibly always loved sports. He has dreamed of becoming a professional athlete as far back as he can remember.

While some could perceive disability as a setback to certain areas in life, Dia has undeniably proven otherwise. He has positively shaped and altered the fear of difference in those around him, probably more than he’s even aware. As a matter of fact, Dia has never felt his physical disability as a barrier preventing him from participating in sports and other physical activities.

His incredible journey began at the age of 12 simply after watching the Beirut Marathon commercial on TV one day. It was then and there that Dia decided to participate in the 2008 Beirut Marathon, specifically the 10 km wheelchair race. Much to his surprise, Dia was faced with an immense challenge to push himself to the limit and win his first race. But, it was also at this moment that he realized what a great feeling this new physical game brought him and his newfound passion for handcycling.

A new cycling adventure
A little less than a year later, during offseason, Dia joined the Ayna basketball team to stay in shape, boost his fitness level, and maintain a consistently active lifestyle. The sport helped develop his bone structure and as Dia claims, helped him achieve his first real result in his career as he successfully finished fourth in his second race back with the Beirut Marathon in 2009.

A year later in 2010, Dia once again participated in the Beirut Marathon and transformed his dream into reality by winning first place in the 10 km race. That amazing achievement of winning first place continued for five more consecutive years.

Finally, Dia had a physical challenge he extraordinarily craved: to participate in the 42 km handcycle race.

Paving the path to something special
In 2016, having just turned 20 years old, Dia was introduced to the world of handcycling while volunteering at the Beirut Marathon. There, he met Shehrazad Rizk, a member of the Board of Trustees of the Beirut Marathon. Dia took the opportunity to express his hopes and dreams in encouraging a change in attitude toward those with disabilities and also the desire to address the country’s neglect in supporting those who, like him, want to pursue a competitive athletic career.

One month later, Dia received a surprising phone call. “I was told that I had been chosen among 10 other people to receive a special bike, known as the handcycle. In fact, I have always dreamed that one day I could attend the Paralympic Games to represent Lebanon. Shehrazad Rizk’s handcycle gift has completely changed my life.”

Soon after, Dia channeled all his energy and immersed himself into the sport of handcycling. He went on to explain: “After receiving my handcycle, I started training every day in preparation for my next race. It was also during this time that I was able to meet my idol and water ski champion Silvio Chiha.”

Chiha, at the time, was endorsed by Banque Misr Liban (BML) where he also held a social media contest called the BML Challenge. To encourage the youth to take part in sports, Chiha called upon his followers to challenge him in a sport they considered themselves to excel at. Dia challenged Chiha with handcycling: “I took the initiative to challenge him and it was the greatest experience of my life, especially since I got to meet my hero who represents Lebanon internationally and is encouraging me to do the same through my upcoming races.”

Smashing perceptions
Nothing can stand in the way of Dia’s dream. In the next Beirut Marathon, Dia competed alongside Paralympic champions, Lebanese hand-cyclist Edward Maalouf and Polish Paralympic hand-cyclist Rafal Wilk. Dia’s ultimate goal was to complete the 42 km race in under two hours, and this is exactly what happened as he managed to finish in one hour and 57 minutes.

Dia has certainly shown incredible talent in just a few years time. Quite naturally, he caught the eye of BML, which was largely focused on sports at the time. Dia’s focus and hardworking character impeccably fit the bank’s motto of “Aim. Act. Achieve.” BML aspires to continuously offer support, promote and spread the culture of aiming to achieve and that no dream is too big. Dia’s perseverance was something that the bank found very attractive.

Just this year, Dia came in first place at the Tripoli Marathon after several trials in various marathon competitions. This is an outstanding improvement from last year, where Dia finished fourth at the Saida Marathon with the support of BML, which also gave him the opportunity to participate in international races. With much perseverance and determination, Dia successfully conquered his personal goal at the Bucharest International Half Marathon in Romania, where he came in first place for the first time in his life representing Lebanon abroad. After his victory he humbly said: “This partnership with BML further allowed me to attend a training camp with worldwide champions in South Africa. My ambition today and every day is to make it to the Paralympic Games.”

“Aim. Act. Achieve.”

Why BML is supporting Hassan
BML’s “Be the Change” platform focuses on supporting individuals who dream big, who are very focused, and who need the support to be able to achieve their target. BML’s social responsibility programs are aimed at many humanitarian and sports fields. Subsequently, the bank acknowledges big achievements in sports and athleticism and works to provide support to young talent in various sports sectors.

BML’s support to Dia is imminent as he is a rising athlete that has overcome incredible obstacles with an open heart full of passion and dedication. He is a powerful force who has built resilience through his unstoppable and unwavering hard work and training and this is the definition of “Aim, Act, Achieve.”

Building momentum through BML support
BML is honored to support Hassan Dia as he represents Lebanon through his Paralympic journey. This is a powerful and compelling opportunity to fuel his athletic training, so he can perform longer, harder, and with exclusive access to proper facilities and coaching. Consequently, this movement is only in the beginning of its long-term plan and as of now, Dia has been receiving support for two years.

Willpower has no limit
At only 22 years of age, Hassan Dia has beat all odds. He is a phenomenal character and is living proof of someone who does not give up when approaching his goals. His biggest ambition to date is to participate and compete in the 2024 Summer Paralympics being held in Paris.

Dia is pushing the boundaries of what Lebanon can do for its aspiring Paralympic athletes. He is changing the way people view disabilities and is making a difference, both through his disability and handcycling skills.