If you are familiar with ISNA Canada’s various services and volunteer opportunities offered, then this person will not be a new face to you. Although she is known for dedicating most of her time to growing several projects at ISNA, I’m here to shed some light on her most recent extracurricular accomplishment. Omaya Rakieh is a Muslim, hijabi, full-time working mother of three and she was born with polio. Polio is a disease that weakens the muscles in the pelvic region and below, however, the conditions do vary from person to person. Now, before you start to send your pity prayers, let me tell you that she is in no need of them. Omaya raised her daughters to be as active and healthy as possible. That means signing them up for any sport available. She truly believed in a sporty lifestyle’s ability to strengthen and empower an individual, and she was not going to let that slip by her daughters. They played any and every sport they could get their hands on and Omaya was always there to guide and support them. It’s safe to say that her number one priorities are her children and husband before anything or anyone else.
Omaya is known for participating in many nonprofit organizations such as the Canadian Association for Muslims with Disabilities (CAM-D), ISNA Canada, and the Muslim Youth Soccer League (MYSL). What most don’t know about her is that she immigrated to Canada 30 years ago in hopes of beginning her career in social work. Back in Lebanon, she spent most of her time tending to the disabled minority that were often overlooked by Lebanese society. She hoped to continue her work in Canada, but realized that social work here was very different than back home. She received a scholarship to study social work at Ryerson, but was steered in another direction by an aptitude test she took. The test revealed 90% success in a math related field. So, she took a different path towards IT and grew her career from the bottom to the top. She began as an intern for General Electric Information Services in 1992, and worked her way to Senior IT Delivery Manager 25 years later. Being a visible Muslim, hijabi, woman with a disability entering the corporate Western world at the time, needless to say, she faced various forms of trials and tribulations. However, she feels as though all her experiences helped shape the woman she is today and she’s been blessed with so many opportunities in both the professional realm and community work. Many know her as the lady in the wheelchair, but most identify her as the woman that’s done it all!
Three years ago, she noticed her body begin to deteriorate due to lack of movement. Omaya works from home as a Senior IT Global Manager and quite obviously, it’s an office job. She could be sitting at her desk for 7-8 hours a day with a few breaks in between, and for someone with a disability that already dictates a seated lifestyle, she began to grow weaker. So, she decided it was her time to get more active. She came across a nonprofit organization called Cruisers Sports and was most interested in their wheelchair basketball team. Omaya has been with them recreationally and competitively for three years now, and her body has exponentially improved! Not only that, but she recently tried out for the Canadian Women’s Wheelchair Basketball (CWBL) team and was picked to be on the team representing Canada at the nationals championship! Two weekends ago, nationals were held in Burlington and Omaya had her chance to experience a much higher level of competition. From Quebec to British Columbia, each team was better than the next! She felt that “it was an honour to even be on the court with them”. Most of these women were on the Paralympic wheelchair basketball team representing Team Canada in Rio de Janeiro whom Omaya had watched on tv!
This past weekend, Omaya was also in attendance of Défi Sportif in Montreal, Quebec, which is the largest multi-sport tournament offered annually in Canada. From Karate to powerchair soccer, various sports are offered and is one of the few tournaments that includes sports for the physically disabled. Omaya recalls her daughters attending it for Karate a while back and remembers a significant amount of push back received due to the hijabs they wore. This past weekend went by with zero incidents of discrimination and Omaya enjoyed every moment. Her team almost won third in wheelchair basketball, however, the top three teams had many able-bodied people on their teams which is a significant advantage. That is what is so inclusive about adapted sports, that both the physically disabled and able-bodied individuals may take part! That means, Omaya can play with her daughters on the court as long as they are also in a wheelchair.
Going from slow deterioration and bed ridden to playing on the CWBL national team, Omaya sets a beautiful example for her daughters and everyone around her, that anything is possible. No matter the situation you are in, you always have some sort of control to change it. Omaya leaves us with this, “Don’t let anyone tell you can’t, because you definitely can!”.
It is a blessing to have such a dynamic and positive female leader in our community. Omaya is a true example of perseverance and strength – not allowing anything to stand in the way of her goals. She truly is an inspiration.
If you’d like to check out Cruisers Sports, their website is below!