Powerlifting star Ali Jawad believes he “won a medal in life” by managing to compete at Tokyo 2020 and concedes his career could now be over unless he finds sustainable medical treatment for Crohn’s disease.
Rio 2016 silver medallist Jawad mounted a heroic effort just to be in Japan: shielding for three years, taking risks with medication and foregoing a stem cell trial featuring aggressive chemotherapy.
By his own admission, the 32-year-old arrived for the Games a shadow of his former self, having been debilitated by a lengthy fight against the inflammatory bowel condition.
He managed a credible sixth-placed finish in the men’s -59 kg final on Friday following a best lift of 164kg, while compatriot Olivia Broome later claimed bronze in the women’s -50kg.
For context, the 190kg Jawad lifted in Brazil five years ago would have been good enough to claim this year’s gold, which went to China’s Qi Yongkai, who edged Egyptian defending champion Sherif Osman into second.
With the stem cell trial window now closed, he heads home facing a painful dilemma as his current best option health-wise – a stoma bag – would certainly mean retirement.
“I’ve managed to take Crohn’s Disease to the very limits of what anyone’s been able to take it before and managed to survive and I’m here,” said the Lebanon-born athlete, who has born without legs and has been taking the steroid prednisolone for his ongoing condition.
“That for me is better than any medal I can have around my neck.
“I think the first thing is to come off the medication I’m on.
“That was the big risk: the side effects and what it does. It’s just completely transformed my body in a way that you can’t train and live normally and recover from training.
“I need to come off it but I need to come off it slowly and find an alternative method to try and treat me and get me in remission.
“After that we’ll make a decision about whether or not I make a competitive comeback. I can’t compete sick or in the position I’m in now.
“Unfortunately at the moment we don’t know what my options are and that’s my reality.
“The stem trial, there was deadline on that this year. That’s gone. It’s not an option for me.
“I don’t think I’m ready for the stoma bag just yet. If it’s the only option, I’m going to have to take it and put my health first. Unfortunately to have that, then it’s retirement.
“I’m very proud to have made it here. I think I’ve won a medal in life.”
Before travelling to the Japan, Jawad admitted his main fear was embarrassment.
He certainly did not succumb to humiliation inside a vast auditorium at the Tokyo International Forum.
An attempt at 163kg was completed with relative ease before he let out a roar of raw emotion after successfully going a kilogram higher in round two
A red flag prevented him progressing to 166kg.
“It’s been the biggest rollercoaster of my life, the last five years,” said Jawad, who was appearing at his fourth successive Games.
“I think I would probably say that it was worth it.
“Not only have I learned a lot about myself: not giving up, digging in, being adaptable in the process and plan, but also the team around me risked as much too.
“It’s not a medal but I really hope that people don’t remember me for the medal but for being someone who didn’t give up – and that they can use that in their life.”
Jawad’s inspirational exploits were swiftly backed up by the feat of team-mate Broome.
The 20-year-old, from Lancashire, marked her Paralympic debut with a best lift of 107kg, 13kg off gold, to claim a podium place.