May 18 2013 Latest news:
By Ben Pearce
Wednesday, September 21, 2011
Ali Jawad, a 22-year-old weightlifter from Tottenham, is literally putting his body on the line to give himself a shot at glory in his home city next summer
The quest for a medal at the Paralympics is always a struggle against adversity – but for weightlifter Ali Jawad, the pursuit of glory at London 2012 is even harder than it is for his rivals.
The 22-year-old, who lives in St Ann’s Road in Tottenham, was born without legs. But, having overcome his disability to become one of the world’s top weightlifters, his quest for international success has also been severely hampered by Crohn’s disease – an inflammatory disease of the intestines.
Having started powerlifting at Wood Green Weightlifting Club in 2005, Jawad progressed rapidly to earn a place in the Great Britain team for the Beijing Games in 2008.
However, he was struck down with illness the night before the competition, and was subsequently diagnosed with Crohn’s disease.
Despite that, Jawad – who trains three times a week at the University of East London in Stratford – has refused to give up on his dreams, and is setting his sights on a gold medal in his home city next summer.
“I didn’t know what was wrong with me in Beijing and, when I found out, I was out of action for two years,” he said. “When I started weightlifting again, I was at a worse level than when I first started out six years ago.
“A lot of doctors didn’t give me a chance of ever competing at international level again, but I didn’t want to give up, I don’t want to have any regrets.
“Being written off does give me more motivation, but at the same time you have to listen to medical advice, and to your body, because it’s a big risk for my health.
“Crohn’s disease has a big effect on my day-to-day life. My food has to be spot on – if I eat anything bad I’ll be out for six or seven weeks – and I’m always tired, always in pain.
“If I pull it off in the end and achieve what I hope to achieve, it will all be worth it – but if I don’t then, to be honest, it won’t.”
In a particularly brave move, Jawad has chosen to exacerbate his symptoms by dropping down in weight to give himself a better chance of success.
“It’s a big risk, because one of the symptoms of Crohn’s disease is weight loss,” the north Londoner explains.
“I’m effectively making one of the symptoms worse. Most medical people can’t understand why I would want to do this to myself.”
The answer is that, despite the hurdles which stand in his way, Jawad – who was born in Lebanon – knows he has the potential to go all the way at London 2012.
He certainly has pedigree and, as an 18-year-old, he won gold at the 2008 Junior European Championships, before finishing fourth in the senior category of the same competition and going to the Paralympics in Beijing.
Things may not have gone according to plan since then, but Jawad remains confident in his ability – and rightly so.
“I’m weighing in at 53kg at the moment and I’m lifting 175kg, so that’s pretty good. At the moment the world number one at this weight is lifting 167kg,” he said.
“It all depends on the Crohn’s – if I can stay healthy I’ve got a good shot. I’ve just got to hope it doesn’t flare up, and do whatever I can to make sure it doesn’t.”
Jawad is now more than halfway through a two-year qualification process for Team GB, and will soon be moving to Leeds to join the Elite Performance squad.
“The qualification process ends in February – I’ve got to be in the top 10 in the world by then,” he explains. “I don’t have a world ranking at the moment but I’m going to the Brada Games in Holland next month, so we’ll see where I am then.
“It takes me a long time to recover from each competition, because of the Crohn’s, so I’m aiming to do three more – and the main event will be in February in Dubai.
“That’s kind of like a mini-World Championships, and that will probably decide whether I make the team or not.”
Should he succeed, and go on to win a medal, Jawad admits that he will owe a lot to his first club, Wood Green, where it all began.
“I went to White Hart Lane secondary school, which is now Wood Side High. One day one of my friends literally forced me to go to the gym over the road, which was Wood Green Weightlifting Club,” Jawad recalls.
“I started powerlifting and there was a national coach there, Dave Kaye, who owned the gym – and he said that I had potential, and could maybe go on to do something.
“I wasn’t sure, I didn’t think I was very strong – but I surprised everyone by getting to the Paralympics in Beijing, which was only really two years after I started properly.
“I owe a lot to the club for discovering me, having faith in me and laying the foundations for everything that I’ve done.”
With under a year to go until the opening of the London 2012 Paralympic Games, you can apply for tickets from now through until 6pm on Monday September 26. To apply for tickets and for more information, please go to www.tickets.london2012.com