9 August 2017

Loretta Claiborne, who defied perceptions of intellectual disability to become an icon in world sport and a global campaigner for intellectual disability, and May El Khalil, who overcame a debilitating accident and rose through turbulent societal conditions in Lebanon to create one of the region’s most inspiring events, the International Beirut Marathon, will share their inspiring stories with audiences at the UAE capital this November at the International Conference of Sports for Women (ICSW).

Although emerging from different backgrounds, both women have been able to inspire change within their communities through a shared passion for running, and continue to inspire others worldwide by sharing their incredible stories. Claiborne will tell the story of her athletic journey and how she challenged the long-existing negative connotations that have been associated with intellectual disability in a dedicated session titled “Following An Athlete’s Journey”; while Lebanon’s May El-Khalil will share insights gained from her wealth of experience as the founder of the Beirut Marathon Association in a panel discussion titled “Behavioral Change: Sports as the Norm”.

For its fourth edition, set to be held on 6-7 November, 2017, ICSW has adopted “Inspiring Generations” as its central theme. The theme will be addressed through two keynote speeches, five panel discussions and eight workshops that will be organized over the course of two days at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre (ADNEC). The conference will also feature a marketplace that includes exhibits from sponsors and various sports entities as well as networking spaces for delegates.

Loretta Claiborne was born in Pennsylvania in 1953 and was partially blind and unable to walk or speak until the age of four. Despite being pressured to admit a young Loretta to an institution at a time when individuals with intellectual disability were largely stigmatized, Loretta’s mother refused to bow down, believing in her child’s potential to grow and develop her abilities.  At school, Loretta would escape the taunts and teasing of her classmates by running away. From then on, running became a passion through which she would find her path to success and global recognition.

In 1971, Claiborne was introduced to the Special Olympics, which she described as a “turning point” in her life. Soon, she started training to compete at Special Olympics events, and won a gold medal in the 1983 World Games mile run. As of today, Loretta Claiborne has won hundreds of medals at various events, including medals in figure skating as well as running. She is a seasoned athlete in a variety of sports, including karate, skiing, skating, and basketball. She also holds the women’s record for the 5000 meter run in the Special Olympics World Games for her age category and has featured in the top 100 women at the Boston Marathon twice.

Apart from her athletic career, Claiborne is a global spokesperson for the Special Olympics and has given talks at different events across the world, as well as being a member of the current Board of Directors for Special Olympics Inc..  She has also been the recipient of multiple prestigious awards in recognition of her brilliant career including induction into the World Sport Humanitarian Hall of Fame 2007, induction into the Women in Sports Hall of Fame (2000), the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage at the Excellence in Sports Performance Yearly (ESPY) Awards 1996, Special Olympics Athlete of the Year 1990, and the Spirit of Special Olympics Award 1981. In 2000, her story was immortalized in the Walt Disney TV film production, The Loretta Claiborne Story.

”Sports completely changed my life and helped me overcome many of the personal challenges that I had to face at a young age, and if it wasn’t for the support of my family, I would not have been able to pursue my passion for sports and turn my life around. It’s that support that I would like to inspire others to give to the young people in their lives, and it’s that passion that I’m hoping to ignite in the hearts of younger people who might be struggling to prove themselves in various aspects of their lives,” says Loretta Claiborne on her participation in ICSW.

She added, “ICSW is a unique platform for women who want to change their own and other’s lives for the better to come together and share their dreams and vision. I’m hoping that everyone at ICSW will connect with my story and that it will inspire them to move forward and become the best version of themselves that they can be.”

Not unlike Loretta Claiborne, running was a passion for May El-Khalil for a very long time, and she had always hoped to spread that passion to others in her home country, Lebanon. She also had a passion for giving from very early on in her career, as, while living in Nigeria in the 1990s, she established the “Lebanese Ladies in Nigeria”, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting women’s education. Later on she returned to Lebanon, and in 2001, she suffered a fateful accident while on her routine run that would put her in a coma and leave her unable to walk for months. After two years of struggling with injuries and undergoing 36 operations, El-Khalil was able to walk again. Out of her own struggle, she was inspired to start a movement that would create a sense of community, inspiring others to fight through and overcome the adversities in their lives. This is when she founded the Beirut Marathon Association.

The first Beirut Marathon was held on October 19, 2003, attracting 6,000 participants from 49 different nationalities. It was the realization of El-Khalil’s vision of bringing running culture to Lebanon that would continue to grow year after year. The marathon soon became a globally acclaimed event, and a source of pride and community for the Lebanese population. In 2015, the marathon received the silver accreditation from the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF), and the most recent marathon attracted over 47,000 participants from 104 different nationalities in November 2016. It has also received recognition from prestigious organizations across the globe, being awarded the Association Internationale de la Presse Sportive (AIPS) Power of Sports Award 2010, the Laureus “Sports for Good” Award 2010, and May El-Khalil was invited to speak about the Beirut Marathon project at the world-renowned TED Global Conference in Edinburgh, Scotland in 2013. Today, the Beirut Marathon Association organizes multiple running events alongside the Beirut Marathon, including the ladies-only Saradar Bank Women’s Race.

Speaking about the legacy of the Beirut Marathon, El-Khalil said “The [Beirut] Marathon is a powerful statement on the tremendous effect sports can have on any community. It’s more than just the physical - it has the power to change lives and spread a message of hope, health, happiness and even peace to every member taking part. Through all the difficult times Lebanon has witnessed over the past 15 years, the Beirut Marathon has given us a reason to believe in what we can accomplish when we come together as a community, in overcoming our own fears as individuals as well as a society. This was all done through sports.”

On her participation in ICSW 2017, she added “I’m very excited to share the Marathon’s journey with the ICSW audience, and I look forward to taking part in the dialogue around making sports culture an integral part of the lives of future generations. It’s a great opportunity to take part in such an event that sheds light on women’s role in spreading that culture, and I’m hoping that, together, we can inspire others to start their own initiatives that will promote a healthier and happier lifestyle within their communities.”

Loretta Claiborne and May El-Khalil are the latest speakers to feature in ICSW 2017’s stellar line-up. In July, Raha Moharrak, the first Saudi woman to ever scale Mount Everest, and Sister Madonna, the oldest record holder in Ironman triathlons, were announced as the first panelists of the conference. HRH Princess Haya Bint Al Hussein, wife of HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, was also announced as the conference’s first keynote speaker.

Registrations for ICSW are now open to all members of the public, but spaces are limited. Those who wish to attend are encouraged to register now via the event’s official website www.fbma.ae/icsw. For any inquiries or event information, e-mail icsw.enquiries@fbma.ae