Arz Zahreddine is a committed paralympian who was born in Lebanon. He has been through hardships due to a car accident at the age of three that resulted in him losing half of his right leg.
Arz has bravely managed to keep his sanity after the accident and has worked tirelessly to develop mentally and physically, becoming Lebanon's only parathlete to compete in the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
He loves his country but also loves to travel abroad. One of his favourite vacation spots is Greece. He loves Greek cuisine which is similar to Lebanese cuisine.
Arz recently spoke to Greek City Times to tell us more about his story.
Are you able to share with us your childhood story about how you suffered this accident.
2002 was a life-changing period for me and my family. At the age of 3, my family and I had a tragic car accident on a highway in Lebanon. As a kid, living with one leg and a half wasn’t easy at all, starting with 16 surgeries, being bullied by my classmates at school, from the depression and asking God “Why me?” or why he chose me to lose half of my right leg.
From the ages of 3 to 7, my mom was concerned about me maintaining my mental health and being able to walk again like everyone else, so I started daily physical therapy. This was by far a life-changing time and led me to begin my fencing career at a very young age. Sport has been always an escape from my wounds, pain, negative feelings and thoughts. From the age of 7 to 19, I won many medals in Lebanon, international competitions and titles in my fencing career but after seeing that I have bigger potential and I discovering my love for running, I made the decision to retire from fencing and start my career at the end of 2018. From a tiny competition, I qualified for the Asian Para-Athletics Championship in Jakarta. After coming from Indonesia, I told myself that this is my game and I want to die with many world records and medals. 2019 was a bright year winning the 1st and 2nd position in 100m and 200m and qualifying for the World Para Athletics Championships in Dubai, and achieving my dream of qualifying for the Paralympics in Tokyo, 2020.
Nowadays, I am the 2nd fastest Asian para-athlete in my category T64 (one leg amputation below the knee), ranked 14th in the world and the only blade runner in Arab and West Asia.
Does your disability define you?
In my opinion yes, my disability defines me. And believing in whether "the disability does or doesn't define you" isn't for anyone else except for you to decide. You can feel like this aligns with who you are and how you think about yourself, but you don't have to accept that just by default simply because it's so common in our culture to say that. For me, my disability DOES define me, kind of by definition. Without it, I would have a different mindset, and thus, I would be another person. Without it, I would have a different body, and I would be a different person.
Why is that a bad thing to have a disability define us? Why do we think that's limiting? There's a certain amount of able-ism in assuming that not being defined by a disability is an encouraging thing to say, and we really need to think about why we find something like that helpful or cheerful. What would be wrong with having a disability define us?
In my opinion, there is absolutely nothing wrong with my disability defining me, and it is an act of self-love to proudly claim my disability as an integral part of me. To say that it doesn't define me is denying who l am because I would be different in ways I can't know or predict if I didn't have the same body and brain.
Are people enthusiastic about Paralympic Games as Olympic Games?
Yes! For sure people are very enthusiastic about Paralympic Games as Olympic Games, but sadly we have to work hard in Arab countries, like Lebanon, to let people know about the importance of the Olympics and especially the Paralympic Games.
How do you fund your participation? Have you received any governmental funding?
I fund myself and this is a big obstacle to my career and life. As I can’t work a full-time job, with this financial crisis in Lebanon, my career is getting harder year after year because I’m growing fast in my career and image worldwide but my country is not interested in my potential and focusing on different things. That’s why I took the decision to make a step forward and move to a country where I feel safe and has many opportunities - the United Arab Emirates - where the leaders are supporting sports; helping every person who lives in this beautiful and safe country; and they get in touch with people with disabilities, thereby transforming the mentality and “disabled people” into “people of determination”.
What’s the specific unique trait that set you apart from the rest?
We are all human and we are unique at the same time. My intelligence and communication skills and attitude are the specific unique traits that set me apart from the rest and have helped me to reach people wherever they live or be.
What is it that you are proud of?
I am proud of myself and my story. I’m proud that I’m making a positive impact on all audiences, both teenagers and older. And the best is coming.
What would your advice be to new athletes?
I tell them when something is important enough to them, they must not give up even if the odds are not in their favour. Wake up early, be dedicated and never give up! Purpose and suffering will light your road to success and you’ll reach the top of the pyramid.
Are there people who have inspired you in life?
Jarryd Wallace inspired me a lot and my goal was to run with him in the Paralympic Games, and my dream came true, I met and run with him in Tokyo 2021, Paralympic Games.
Do you cling to the stereotypes our society imposes?
Definitely no! I live and speak with all my honesty and beliefs. People can be with you or against you but if you live like how society imposes you to live or speak, you will not be free to express your feelings and be a successful person.
What are some of your future plans at both a professional and personal level?
First of all, as I mentioned above, I’m moving to Dubai for my athletic career and I want to return to modelling on a greater level. I studied sports management (marketing-branding) at university, so, I’m planning to open my own social media online company for content creation and marketing. Last but not least, I will make my first Guinness Book Record in Dubai.