BEIRUT: With more than a hundred supporters cheering him on from the shore, paraplegic Michael Haddad successfully climbed and rappelled down Pigeon Rock Sunday morning to raise awareness about pollution and overdevelopment along Lebanon’s coastline.
Haddad, who was paralyzed from the chest down at the age of 6 in a tragic jet ski accident, was able to hoist himself up the face of Pigeon Rock with several members of the Lebanese Army spotting him.
The exigency of event, which coincided with World Oceans Day, was highlighted by clusters of trash pooling in the alcove beneath Pigeon rock, and a black plastic bag which, lofted skyward by the sea breeze, momentarily distracted onlookers and fellow environmentalists who watched Haddad’s progress from the corniche.
“It was Michael’s idea to climb the rock, because he wanted to defy his disability,” said Iffat Edris Chatila, president of Operation Big Blue Association, which hosted the event.
MP Ghassan Moukheiber lauded Haddad’s effort, saying the event shed light on two important causes.
“The first is he is exemplifying, symbolically, what he [Haddad] has turned into a motto. ‘Turn your handicap into a strength to overcome all hurdles.’ In Lebanon handicapped people have so many hurdles, legal hurdles, physical,” Moukheiber lamented.
“This [event] draws the attention of all politicians, and municipal and central authorities to care for the rights of the handicapped and to empower handicapped people,” Moukheiber told The Daily Star.
“The second is ecological. It’s the day of the sea, and [the event] also draws attention to the plight of the Lebanese shores. They are polluted, and they are attacked with concrete and development,” he said.
Moreover, Haddad’s climb showed the Army’s commitment to environmental causes, said Chatila of Operation Big Blue Association.
While the Army has been partners with Operation Big Blue Association for years, Haddad’s project required particular resolve, she said.
“They [the Army] trained Michael to go up the rock, and they encouraged him. It took a lot of time and a lot of effort,” she said.
“They accepted to take this challenge. Even sponsors didn’t accept because ... In case anything happened, it’s a lot of responsibility.”
To fete the occasion, a military helicopter circled above Pigeon Rock several times in a salute to Haddad, while two motorized paragliders brandished the flags of Lebanon and the Lebanese Armed Forces.
This is not the first time Haddad has pushed his physical abilities to the limit for environmental causes. Last year, he walked 19 kilometers through the Cedar Forest in the north to raise awareness about the need to maintain Lebanese ecosystems.