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Syrian Canadian para-athletes from Calgary launch a virtual fitness program

The idea of hosting fitness classes for people with disabilities had long been a dream for Calgarian Ousama Juha.

As a lifelong para-athlete, he saw the need for it while operating a gym in his home country of Syria.

“Unfortunately, we didn’t have anyone who specialized in para-athletic training,” said Juha in his native language of Arabic.

“I would go to a regular trainer and they’d give me exercises I couldn’t do. It would upset me.”

That feeling, a love of sports, and his previous time training his now-wife Dima Juha, motivated him to pursue his ambition, he said.

“But then war broke out,” said Juha.

An unlikely opportunity

Once war started, the pair fled to Canada.

They’d heard that Canada was more inclusive for athletes with disabilities. That didn’t prove to be true to start.

“Even though there were a lot of people with disabilites, Dima and I couldn’t find anywhere specialized to train,” said Ousama in Arabic.

Until now, his dream of para-athletic fitness classes was just that.

But through the Syrian Canadian Foundation (SCF), where Dima had been taking English classes, an opportunity presented itself.

“We want to make make sure that everyone who accesses our programming feels empowered to give back to their community,” said Razan Samara, project manager with SCF.

“It’s really important that we have more disability-centred programming and make sure that people aren’t left out of the conversation.”

Fitness for all

The program, funded by the Emergency Community Support Fund, is offered entirely in Arabic.

It’s centred around inclusion, diversity, and giving back to the community.

“The best person to help you train is someone who has similar abilities to you,” said Dima Juha.

“Ousama understands this better than anyone I know.”

Her time with him as a coach dates back to 2005, when she first met him at a sporting club in Syria.

At the time, Dima was also a weightlifter before she switched sports and eventually became a national and international para table tennis champion.

Both Dima and Ousama have always been fond of helping others through sport. They believe their program will fill a much-needed gap for a diverse group para-athletes from many sport backgrounds.

Ousama Juha exercising at his home in Calgary OMAR SHERIF/FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY)