KOTA KINABALU: More than 10,000 people put on their running shoes Sunday and ran alongside hundreds of children with disabilities at Kota Kinabalu’s waterfront to promote a more inclusive society for all.
This year the Borneo International Marathon, organised in partnership with UNICEF, aimed to encourage positive attitudes and social acceptance of children with disabilities through sport; and provide an opportunity for all children to engage with each other, learn to live together and respect one another.
“We all learned something today. The runners learned about children with disabilities and what they can do; the children themselves built their self-esteem and overcame obstacles to their participation,” said Dr Heng Aik Cheng, President of Kinabalu Running Club and Race Director of the Borneo International Marathon.
“If we just changed the way we look at things, I believe that we can create an enabling environment for children of all abilities in an inclusive, caring and healthy society. Running together is just one way to show that we care and we want to do better.
“The success of the Borneo International Marathon this year is thanks to the dedication, hard work and sacrifice of our volunteers, Sabah-based organizations representing children with disabilities, and UNICEF,” he said.
A special 3km route was set up for children with and without disabilities to participate in this event, together with their family and friends, alongside representatives from civil society organisations.
All the various category runs – full-marathon, half-marathon, 10km route and 3km route – eventually converged at the Likas Stadium where some 10,000 runners with or without disabilities came together for the closing ceremony.
The marathon was flagged off by Mayor of Kota Kinabalu, Yeo Boon Hai, who ran alongside the children with disabilities.
The race was supported by the Sabah Tourism Board, Sabah Youth and Sports Ministry, Kota Kinabalu City Hall, Royal Malaysian Police, Sabah Health Department, Sabah Education Department and Jabatan Kerja Raya.
“It was uplifting to see runners and children with disabilities crossing the finish line together today”, said Marianne Clark-Hattingh, UNICEF Representative in Malaysia who also took part in the race.
“Sport is a great equalizer that brings together persons with and without disabilities. Our own fears are often the greatest barriers that make children with disabilities invisible, excluded and discriminated; by running this marathon together, we dissipate those fears and misperceptions If today children with and without disabilities can run together, tomorrow they can learn together in the same class without discrimination.”
Several renowned international and Malaysian Para Olympians and sport athletes took part in the biggest sport and tourism event in Sabah to show their support for children with disabilities.
This included Felicia Mikat the Malaysian triple ASEAN Para Games gold medallist and Zhariff Afandi, an ambassador of the 2050 National Transformation (TN50) plan and Katrina Webb the Australian Paralympic athlete and three times gold medallist.
Several civil society organisations from Sabah including Sabah Cheshire Home, Seri Mengasih, CHILD, Bukit Harapan, Down Syndrome Association, Special Olympics Sabah, Sabah Society for the Deaf, Befrienders Kota Kinabalu and Palliative Care Association Kota Kinabalu participated and mobilised children to take part in the Marathon.