Special needs teen aims high to become fastest sprinter

National 3 minutes, 57 seconds


A BRUNEIAN teenager with special needs is not letting his condition get in his way of aiming high - to become the fastest sprinter.

Md Hafizuddin Hj Alidi, 19, has been suffering from hearing loss since he was born.

“People like us, with hearing problems, do not feel any different compared to normal people,” he told The Brunei Times.

Hafiz needed help from his mother during the interview, but he had already prepared a list of what he wanted to share, especially his interest in running.

As the second of three children, Hafiz said encouragement from family and interest can go a long way in helping him grow as a special needs individual.

“As long as we have encouragement and are willing, we will live normally and be successful like others. Now I am running a business with my brother and my mum, while waiting to continue my studies next year,” he said.

“The opportunities are there if you look for it. For example, I joined the Brunei Athletics Association as a sprint runner.”

Hafiz said he is taking a year off to pursue his interest in running, before pursuing his studies next year.

With his easygoing character and positive outlook in life, Hafiz said the American sprinter Justin Gatlin is his idol. Gatlin was an Olympic gold medallist in the 100 metres.

The teenager was one of Brunei’s representatives for the 2012 Malaysia Deaf (SOPMA) Games in Kuala Lumpur and two years later again in Melaka.

In June this year, he won the bronze medal in the 100m and 200m male events, an improvement after he placed sixth at the 200m heat in the 2012 Games.

“I could not beat the Sabah runner in the 200 metre final, but I recorded my new personal best of 24.2 seconds,” he added.

Hafiz’s mother, Cartina Nawi, said it was never always smooth sailing when it came to raising a special needs child.

“We were down when we heard about his (hearing loss) condition, but we believed there is a blessing in disguise,” said Cartina, who is also vice-president of of the National Association of the Deaf.

When Hafiz was two years old, she noticed that he did not speak.

“At first we thought it was normal, because some babies speak late. We brought him to the doctor, and we were referred to a specialist. He was examined and we found out that he has a hearing problem.

“But at that time, the doctor could not tell us the extent of the problem, since he was still a (toddler). From that moment onwards, we have monthly appointments with the doctor and therapist,” she added.

However, Cartina said as as Hafiz grew older, he could hear sounds to a certain extent.

She said parents should consult doctors and not make assumptions if they have any suspicions on their children’s health.

“The situation is much better now, we have many medical advances (to assist parents),” she said.

Her main concern now is to ensure Hafiz is independent, but believed his son’s case was better than most cases.

Cartina described Hafiz as an outgoing person who is not afraid to pursue what he wants.

“We are training him to be independent. We support him in any way we can, but as parents, we have to equip our children with skills to enable them to be independent, she said.

“In Hafiz’s case, he is now helping me with my business. He also has his own sports equipment business with his brother. We leave it up to him to manage it. We support him from behind,” she added.

She further urged parents of special needs children to be proactive.

“We cannot let them sit idle; there are opportunities for them out there. This is important for them to be independent. The journey to independence may be long and difficult, but that is what we want to achieve,” Cartina said.

She said Hafiz believes in living in the moment. “For example, now he wants to be the best runner. However, when you ask what are his future aspirations, he cannot give you an answer. That is why we still need to guide and look after him.”

Cartina said due to Hafiz’s friendly character, she worries of him being taken advantage of, to the point that she has to monitor who he makes friends with.

She went on to say that her son motivated and continue to push her to seek knowledge and share it with parents facing similar situations.

Cartina said many parents contacted the association for advice and to share experiences.

“We all share the same advice. That is to seek expert help and do the best for your child,” she added.

The Brunei Times