Wednesday, April 4, 2018

The Extraordinary Challenge of an Unusual Daredevil

My six year old son, Jad has Autism. 

We have known since he was 15 months. Even though his case is not what I would personally qualify as severe, he remains non-verbal in spite of all the years of speech and other therapies he has bravely tackled. 

These sessions have been imposed by us, his parents, obviously. He has never asked for any of it and I am certain, if he could verbally convey his thoughts, he would probably ask us to leave him be. 

Jad Bou Onk: Not your basic hero

Therapy is hard work. Every session is draining both physically and mentally and yet, Jad makes great efforts to persevere with our demands. 

We are lucky to have found brilliant therapists who are now making these additional mandatory endeavors slightly less exhausting and more fun. Still, I always feel all of this is so unfair to such a young child who does not really know why it is happening to him. 

Let me be clear though: I am grateful for these therapists and their hard work and I know ultimately, Jad is benefiting from all of this. Nonetheless, my softer mommy side cannot help but feel bad for him. 

I also need to be clear on another pivotal truth: we would never try or want to change Jad. He is the most perfect little person just the way he is. I would love to be able to change society though but that is another story. 

Instead, as we stand powerless facing this society which can be ruthless to people like Jad, we work hard to give our son tools that will allow him to find some happiness and contentment when he ventures into this (unsympathetic) world. 

"You may say I'm a dreamer"

My son, that superhero who traded a cape for a glider!

Every year, come April, I try my best to spread some awareness on social media. Families like us, healthcare professionals, therapists, educators and people from all walks of life rally and join forces with one goal: educate. 

It is crucial for us to speak of the fears, challenges, struggles and daily obstacles our loved ones face. It is also important to shed light on the kind of support they require. 

Because every human being deserves to live with dignity. It is a fundamental right and not an issue to be debated.

When we speak of "special needs", the common reaction can be apprehensive. Misconceptions are frightening and they often project people with special needs as a burden on society.

That is the sad truth when we decide to abandon these people to a fate of loneliness and segregation. 

However, if we educate and empower them to become active members of our society, all our expectations shift. If we give them the tools to be able to contribute positively and be independent, they no longer become burdens. They become a valuable asset we can rely on in so many ways. 

Gearing to for an extraordinary adventure

Superheroes do not need capes, a brave heart and a genuine smile will take them beyond our wildest expectations

That is why this year I chose a different angle for Autism Awareness Month. 

Instead of focusing on our struggles and challenges, I decided to shed light on Jad's strengths. 

This year I wanted to speak of abilities instead of disabilities. 

My little boy has autism but autism does not define him. It is one of so many characteristics that make the complex and beautiful person he is.  

Jad has so much potential, I cannot help but stare at him in awe. My heart races and sometimes I can hardly contain my excitement at the sight of him and how he behaves.

On Saturday March 31st, he did something not many of us would do: he flew

Flying is such a powerful action and symbol and is so accurately representative of who Jad is and who he can be.

He has so much courage and strength and his abilities may differ from the norm but they are brilliant nonetheless.

My son is fearless. 
He loves life and the world. 

And he flew above society, above stereotypes and negativity.

He flew with bravery and heart. He smiled at the clouds and laughed with the sea as he soared over Jounieh.


Words cannot express how grateful I am to have met Georges Chedid, the pilot who gave my son wings.

All smiles after a fantastic landing!

Paragliding Jounieh supported us in every way and truly enabled Jad to show his potential and go beyond what is usually accepted as his limits. They did it with complete professionalism, but most importantly utter kindness and love for Jad.

Dream Team

As I will never get tired of saying: Jad is absolutely perfect and he truly is the best version of himself. I would never wish him any different or would never think of changing him.

What we strive to do is simply what any parent does on a daily basis: empower him to go beyond stereotypes and obstacles and give him a chance to show the world his true potential.

Our main goal on that special day was to focus on different abilities rather than disabilities.

The People of Determination as they are now rightfully called in Dubai are truly exceptional and show us everyday that differences are not less. Differences are beautiful.

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Saturday, February 10, 2018

Fly high above the sea

When in Lebanon, I get my therapy in the clouds 

Every time is as magical as the previous one and even though I now know what to expect, somehow, each new flight exceeds my expectations in different ways. 

Photo: G. Chedid - Paragliding Jounieh

Jounieh was double the fun as we got enough time to fly twice and I even took the reins for a little while! That was insane!

Yes, I now consider myself a pilot and even made a t-shirt as evidence of my new status. If it is written on my chest, it must be true, right? 

My real actual pilot was the gifted Georges Chedid

I am always amazed at the amount of talent these boys demonstrate in a country where they have very little to no support. They make it all happen on their own and they do it with heart and professionalism.

I may be a dreamer or flying could be some sort of drug that my heart and soul long for but somehow, I trust these remarkable air geniuses with everything, my life included. 

The sense of safety and control they manifest can only inspire respect and admiration and that is why I went all the way with some insane fun this time: we spiraled! Well, Georges spiraled, I screamed. But we did it in beautiful unison. See for yourselves:

Video: G. Chedid - Paragliding Jounieh

I am an urban girl. I have always lived in big, crowded (and very polluted) cities. Ehden is my exception because something within me always pulls me back up to the mountains. 

The sea, on the other hand, not so much. I have lived in Dubai for 15 years and I probably go to the beach twice a year at the most. Quite ridiculous, I know. But I have no interest in being hot, wet and sticky. Especially not in sand. 

That being said, I love watching and listening to the waves. And Jounieh's shore is stunning. The mere sight of it can bring an overwhelming feeling of calmness and beauty. 

But to look at it from so high above was absolutely breathtaking. The sun was starting to move towards to surface of the water, glittering and dancing on the sea and it all felt so magical. 

Somehow, looking down at this extraordinary manifestation from the sky made everything intensely surreal and the beauty of it all filled my soul with so much peace and happiness. 

I am so grateful flying never fails me and it has become this constant. Every new flight is a complete state of mind, being and happiness and I fall in love all over again each time. 

Paragliding Jounieh
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I flew, I blogged:

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Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Endings and Beginnings

2017 has ended. I have lived through enough new year's eves to know nothing special will magically materialize and this is not really a new beginning of anything. It is just another tomorrow. 

But I have also lived through one amazing 2017 that taught me you can make new beginnings happen at any point in time not just in January. Mine took place this past August and it was truly my own little revolution. 

For some years now, I have been numb. It may not have been obvious because I smile and laugh a lot and people around me tend to think I am this light, happy person. A big part of me is.

But there also is this hole inside my chest that has been driving me insane. I managed to put some of that anxiety into words and I am still working hard on fixing what needs to be fixed. There is no magic pill, it will take whatever time it takes. 

But somehow this past summer something shifted. Something that made me want to start working on myself and address my pain in a constructive manner. Something made me want to get out of that hole. 

I was back home in Lebanon where we spend our summers in the mountains of Ehden and my brother came from Dubai with a group of friends. He asked me to sort out some activities for them and I thought, well, why not join them. I had always wanted to do these things and kept putting them off for some reason. Laziness. Routine. No one to join me. Who knows. But now, a group of fun people were coming over and I did not have to go by myself (which was never going to happen). And so I did. 

I jumped off a cliff. And I flew. 

It was the most liberating feeling I had ever felt. 

And in an instant, I started thinking of all the things I had wanted to do and kept postponing and I began to wonder why. Flying is probably one of the hardest and there I was, above the mountains. Happy and at peace and nothing dramatic had happened. I was still alive. More than ever before in fact. And it was all so simple. It was just pure organic perfection. 

And so it begun. A series of challenges and little victories ensued and changed everything I was and who I decided to become. 

I could not leave Ehden before flying one more time and upon my return to Dubai, I hunted for paragliding in the UAE too. 

A post shared by Rouba Abouzeid (@abouzeid) on

Nothing compares to that state of being and mind. 

My therapist calls this event, my little revolution. I think she could not be more spot on! She accurately summed it all up with a couple of charming and beautiful words that seem to be just that but which carry in actuality so much more weight and significance.  

A series of challenges and little victories

Following on my summer resolution to kick my butt into shape, I registered for Spartan, an Obstacle Course Race that promised to drag me in the mud. Never in a million years would I have ever dared of fantasizing about such a challenge. But I did follow through and... 

I did it!

Ok, that is not really my victory photo.

These are:

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The reason why I took on this challenge in the first place was my son, Jad and the hopes of one day completing a Special Spartan with him. I did use my tiny spotlight to highlight Autism and hopefully, will be doing more in 2018 in that respect.

To get me mentally and physically ready for such a challenge I enlisted my very own army: Coach Youssef in Lebanon who started me on the right path and kept pushing me to trust myself.

All the while, I researched my options in Dubai to be able to pick up quickly once back home and was lucky to find The Core Coach, Ieuan Evans. His dedication is unparalleled and he started working with me remotely, before we had even met which truly impressed me and gave him a definite edge when I was selecting a coach. He sent me a couple of challenges to complete while in Lebanon and got me wanting more! By the time we got to the race, he had turned me into a Spartan beast! Well, not really. I am still my regular mortal self but I am training hard and his program is absolutely fantastic. He incorporates fun fitness elements in an otherwise boring workout (at least to the lazy couch potato that I am) and I have loved getting to try new disciplines like kickboxing, pilates and crossfit.

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Photo by The Core Coach - Ieuan Evans
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While in Lebanon, I also explored new ways to challenge myself and went hiking in Ehden's natural reserve with some friends and Coach Youssef who turned from trainer to true friend and kept supporting me in every endeavor. The Reserve was such a treat I could not believe I kept postponing it every summer!

I also undertook my very first cross-country walk down from my hometown in Ehden to Zgharta to celebrate the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. The hike took five hours for a good 30+ kilometers on foot. It was excruciating and I powered through two missed steps and ankle injuries but I was so proud in the end. The littlest victories can be the most rewarding!

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And of course, I could not have returned to Dubai without trying the fun mountain activities first. From a road trip to Qurnat As Sawda, the highest peak in the region where we found snow in the middle of summer, to zip lining in the Reserve... I did it all in a few weeks time! Talk about compensating for lost years!

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A post shared by Rouba Abouzeid (@abouzeid) on

Dubai also gave me new flying sensations with an amazing jump above The Palm thanks to the brilliant guys at SkyDive Dubai! Yes, I took the ultimate leap and jumped off a plane. It appears the insanity will not cease any time soon!

And because the outdoors suddenly became my best friend in the summer, I also looked for options in the UAE where I could challenge myself with each event and hopefully reach new heights, both mentally and in actuality, by hiking in the mountains of Ras Al Khaimah. This is how I met the amazing people at Adventurati Outdoor. I loved them so much, I went on three consecutive hikes in the hottest months in the UAE and moved from beginners to intermediate level in no time. But they deserve their own post, so I will just keep the details for another time.

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In so many ways, 2017 was one revolutionary year and it was all mine.
I cannot wait to see what 2018 brings.
Or rather, what I will bring in 2018!

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