Loughborough-based para powerlifter Ali Jawad is positive about 2021, having had “one of the best years” of his life.
“I know it sounds weird, but I think it’s been one of the best and most productive years of my life – I started a PhD on anti-doping in Paralympic Sport and I’m launching an app next summer.”
For the 31-year-old who suffers from Crohn’s, his biggest challenge this year has been adapting his training environment from a busy gym environment with his team around him, to alone in his living room.
“Not having my team around me all the time was a real challenge because I had to make sure my Crohn’s was under control – I’ve definitely had to learn a lot about myself this year in terms of how to tackle Crohn’s remotely.”
Jawad was diagnosed with the disease in 2009 following the 2008 Paralympic Games in Beijing, and instead of retiring from sport as was expected, he defied all odds and has now competed at three Commonwealth Games and another two Paralympic Games. The diagnosis also meant he had developed strategies for self-isolation, which have been put to good use this year.
“My Crohn’s got really bad a couple of years ago and I had to self-isolate for long periods of time. That meant that when we went into lockdown in March, I already had all the tools to manage.”
Now, Jawad is looking ahead to the next two years of major competitions, starting with a postponed Paralympic Games in Tokyo and the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham in 2022.
“The postponement [of the Paralympic Games] has given me another chance because I don’t think I would have made the Games if they had happened [in 2020]. The delay has given me an extra year to get fit and ensure my Crohn’s is under control.
But it’s the Commonwealth Games that holds a special place in his heart.
“Having the opportunity to be part of Team England, alongside able-bodied teams, is absolutely incredible – I’m really excited.
“I’m sure the public will come out and pack the venues to support the team, which is something I can’t wait for. The people closest to me will get to watch me again in international competition and that is quite rare, so really special. And I really hope I can inspire other disabled people to create their own goals as a result.”
The powerlifter will be hoping to compete at his fourth Commonwealth Games, and also sits on the Commonwealth Games England board as an athlete representative. And he’s got ambitions beyond sport. Jawad is currently completing a PhD at the University of Birmingham and next summer will roll out his disability fitness app, AccesserCise.
“I’ve been very lucky in my career – I’ve had access to the best facilities and working with the best teams. The key is the access I am privileged to have, something most disabled people don’t have available to them. I wanted to try and bridge the gap – not all disabled people want to become Paralympians, most just want to get fit. So, I wanted to create an opportunity to give them access to do just that.
“I want the app to drive policy changes at government level to ensure every gym is accessible inside and out.”