Ali Jawad – Risking his health in pursuit of Paralympic gold

Powerlifter Ali Jawad has conquered every challenge in life and in sport, except one. Now he faces a huge dilemma over whether to continue fighting for the one prize that still eludes him. Lee Sobot reports.

Ali Jawad en route to winning a silver in Rio (Picture: PA)

FORMER Leeds-based powerlifter Ali Jawad is used to overcoming the most difficult of adversities.

Born without legs in Lebanon in January, 1989, 27 years later Jawad had earned himself a Paralympics silver medal.

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Yet that only tells half the story about an athlete also battling Crohn’s disease.

Ali Jawad meets the crowds at the Olympic reception outside Leeds Civic Hall, Millennium Square, Leeds, in 2012.

Jawad is running out of treatments but not running out of motivation with the athlete willing to risk his health for the one medal that eludes him at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games – gold.

Rio Paralympics silver medallist Jawad has been told by doctors that none of the medication he has taken for his Crohn’s condition over the last 18 months has helped him.

Doctors have told the athlete that only two procedures would now help and both of them – the fitting of a colostomy bag or sensotherapy – would likely mean sacrificing the bid for any further medals.

At 30 years old, Jawad has already amassed a Paralympics silver, a World Championships and European Championships gold and two Commonwealth Games bronzes.

Jonathan Gillespie and Cllr Kevin Ritchie present the Disability Sportsman of the Year award to Ali Jawad in 2015. (Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe)

A Paralympics gold is the main gong that is missing, leaving Jawad facing not only his toughest sporting assignment, but his most difficult dilemma yet.

“It’s a decision that I am fighting myself every single day for,” Jawad tells the YEP.

“But I have made the decision so far to carry on, in spite of my health. Every day is a struggle because I am rejecting treatment and I have to fight the symptoms on a regular basis.

“I have been in a flare since just after Rio and a flare is extreme pain from which you can literally pass out, it’s that bad.

“You have bloody diarrhoea, extreme fatigue but at a level where you can’t actually do anything.

“You can’t eat because you vomit and basically you don’t absorb nutrients from food.

“But I decided last year that I was going to go for Tokyo, even though I know deep down that the likelihood is that I might not make it.

“My brain says one thing but the reality is that one more flare and the music is over.”

Explaining the options, Jawad added: “One option for me is the bag which was a last resort and nobody has ever come back from that and competed at my level.

“The other option is sensotherapy but with that comes six to eight weeks of chemotherapy in hospital and they don’t know what the chemotherapy is going to do to me.

“I am risking my health for this – all for that gold medal – but I had to think about the dreams I had when I was about six years old. The dreams I had then I still have now and I have to fight for them.”

In many ways, Jawad is facing a similar battle to the one he experienced approaching last year’s Commonwealth Gamess, only now at an even higher level.

The history books will show Jawad as a 2018 Commonwealth Games bronze medallist but there is plenty more to it than that – with Jawad having had just eight weeks training following an 18-month flare en route to his bronze-medal success.

The powerlifter is now a finalist in the disability sportsman of the year category at next Thursday’s Leeds Sports Awards which will provide a welcome trip back up north for an athlete who spent five years living in Leeds when his sport’s headquarters were based in the city before being relocated to Loughborough.

Today, Jawad is back living in London with his parents as the powerlifter eyes what would unquestionably be his greatest feat yet.

“After the Commonwealth Games, I won the Europeans two weeks later in France and that was a shock and then I flared again so I have not competed since July,” explained Jawad.

“But I am hopefully making my comeback either at the Hungary World Cup in April or the World Championships in Kazakhstan in July, and that’s obviously the big one.

“That will prove whether or not I am even competitive any more because I have not competed at a world class level since Rio and right now I am a long way off being competitive.

“I’m improving a little bit but not at a rate that would suggest anything good and the World Championships will be a good gauge in whether I decide to go on to Tokyo. Do I really go to Tokyo and not be competitive? That’s also a question.”

It also begs a bigger question – is it really worth it? A question Jawad’s friends and family frequently ask. For Jawad, the answer is an unequivocal ‘yes’.

Jawad reasoned: “It actually makes it more exciting doesn’t it? If I can pull it off then great. If not, nobody can give me any hassle because of my health!

“I’m sure a lot of people think I’m a bit nuts. But if you are not nuts you are not going to go for it and so I have to believe that I can get there in some sort of shape.”