British Paralympian Ali Jawad has said he has been in self-isolation for three years after suffering a series of “horrific” attacks. The athlete, who won gold in the 400m T13 at the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro, says he has not left his home since.
Ali Jawad is a British weightlifter who competed at the 2016 Summer Paralympics in Rio. He has been in self-isolation for three years and says he will be going home to his family after this event.
Ali Jawad, who won silver in the 2016 Paralympics in Rio, earned bronze at the 2018 Commonwealth Games.
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Ali Jawad is a former world powerlifting champion, but his most difficult battle has been with his own body.
Crohn’s illness has brought the self-proclaimed ‘fighter’ to the verge of death, and he has essentially self-isolated for the last three years to ensure he makes it to the Tokyo Paralympics.
On Friday at 03:00 BST, he participates in the -59kg division, aiming to improve on his silver medal from Rio 2016.
Jawad, 32, says, “This is definitely the most involved cycle I’ve ever had in terms of spending every ounce of physical, mental, and emotional energy just to even qualify.”
“The past three or four years have been the most difficult of my life because of my Crohn’s disease and my health.”
Jawad was born without legs below the knee in Lebanon. As the war with Israel escalated, his family relocated to the United Kingdom while he was a newborn, but Crohn’s disease has been his greatest struggle.
Jawad fell sick with flu-like symptoms and diarrhoea the night before his Paralympic debut at the 2008 Beijing Games.
He assumed it was a stomach virus, but the symptoms increased when he returned to the UK.
“I was on all fours on the floor in agony, and I’d pass out from it,” Jawad recalls. “I couldn’t eat, there was blood in the toilet, and I’d dropped approximately two stone in eight weeks, so I realized something was really wrong.”
He was taken to the hospital and diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, a chronic inflammatory illness of the digestive tract that produces severe stomach pains and tiredness.
Jawad’s career has been plagued by this disease. When he wants to practice, he erupts, casting doubt on his intentions and fueling suggestions from his family and teammates that he should quit.
That’s exactly what he did in 2009. He spent six months recovering at the age of 19, but he couldn’t stay away from sports. He dabbled in rowing and table tennis, but his true love was weightlifting.
Doctors informed Jawad, then 21, that he required an emergency seven-hour surgery to remove a portion of his inflamed large intestine. He was instructed to tell his friends and family to expect the worst.
Jawad made it through the ordeal and set his eyes on London 2012, where he placed fourth and went on to win silver four years later.
He knew he’d have to do something extreme to get to the postponed Tokyo Games because of his condition, and he adds, “I’ve had to indirectly isolate for approximately three years.”
He had no idea when this procedure began that the rest of the globe would follow suit due to the spread of Covid-19 in 2023.
Jawad made his first choice when his doctor informed him that his medicine had ceased functioning and that he had just two alternatives.
One option was to get a stoma, which is an incision in the abdomen that enables waste to exit the body, or to participate in a stem cell treatment study that would include severe chemotherapy.
While he was considering his choices, the Olympics and Paralympics were postponed for a year.
Jawad had made up his mind: he wanted to travel to Tokyo first.
“At the very least, I couldn’t tolerate not trying,” he adds. “Every day has been an uphill battle. To help me pull this off, I’ve had to live a pretty rigorous lifestyle. The only way to see whether I could qualify was to put myself in a situation where I could attempt to control every aspect.”
Isolation helped him manage his Crohn’s disease, from meticulously preparing his own meals to not seeing friends and relatives.
The additional year he gained as a result of the worldwide epidemic was also beneficial to him. “I was never going to make it last year,” he says, “and having an additional year enabled me to try to become fitter.”
With so few qualifying events, Jawad knew he had to make the most of his opportunities and wasn’t willing to settle for a wildcard.
He was selected for the British squad to compete in the Para-Powerlifting World Cup in Tbilisi, Georgia, in May, but he knew it wouldn’t be easy.
“I was facing the end of my Paralympic career going into Georgia because I was nothing near qualifying, nowhere near the top eight, and my body wasn’t giving me what I needed,” Jawad explains.
He was strategic, calculating the minimal lift required to clinch a spot without going overboard, and it paid off when the last spot in the Tokyo line-up became available.
Jawad has acquired the moniker “the showman” for his acrobatic celebrations.
“I know it seems strange, but even though I was about 30kg below my peak, it was arguably the greatest performance of my life,” he adds.
“It was like a medal for me when I accomplished it in Georgia, and getting here is definitely the greatest accomplishment of my life.”
Jawad’s moniker on the circuit, ‘the Showman,’ stems from his social media-famous celebrations of jumps and backflips. He’s become more philosophical since then.
He adds that rather than becoming a showman in Tokyo, he wants to enjoy the experience and has gained perspective on what has occurred since his diagnosis 12 years ago in the past few months.
“A medal will never be enough to express how much I’ve spent in the process; this time, I’ve truly put my heart and soul into this cycle,” he adds.
“I don’t want people to remember the medals I’ve won, the records I’ve set, or the celebrations I’ve done; I want them to remember that no matter what was placed in front of me, I always found a way to overcome the challenges.”
“I’ve probably had to do things that a lot of doctors wouldn’t suggest, therefore I don’t provide advice to Crohn’s and colitis patients.”
Jawad believes this will be his last Paralympics, but he has no plans to retire anytime soon. “I’m not sure I can go through another round like this,” he says.
Jawad is still one of the most inexperienced powerlifters on the circuit, with several in their 40s, and hopes to participate in the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham next summer.
“I’d want to retire on home soil, at a multi-sport event in front of friends and family, and what better way to do that than in Birmingham,” he adds.
Ali Jawad, a Paralympian from Britain, said he has been in self-isolation for three years after being attacked and robbed on the street. Reference: paralympian.
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