From Paralympics to the Startup Realm – Ali Jawad

Ali Jawad at Commonwealth Games 2018
About Ali Jaward

Ali Jawad is a British powerlifter who competes in the -59kg class. Born in Lebanon, Ali’s
talent for powerlifting was discovered back in 2005 when he was just 16 years old.

On the eve of his Paralympic debut in Beijing 2008, Ali fell ill. He still competed, finishing ninth, but he was later diagnosed with Crohn’s disease.

After finishing fourth at the London 2012 Paralympics and narrowly missing out on a medal, Ali
continued to work hard and was rewarded with his first gold medal and world record at the Asian
Open Championships in Kuala Lumpur, followed by another gold and world record at the 2014 IPC
World Championships in Dubai, lifting 190kg.

In 2015 Ali’s winning run continued, winning another gold medal in the -65kg class at the IPC
Powerlifting European Championships in Eger, Hungary, to ensure that he was selected to
Paralympics GB as reigning World and European Champion.

Competing in his third Games at Rio 2016, Ali won his first ever Paralympic medal after securing
silver in the men’s -59kg category, lifting a best of 190kg to finish second. Gold went to Egypt’s Sherif Osman who set a Paralympic record of 203kg with China’s Yang Quanxi
taking bronze with 176kg

Prorizon had the opportunity to interview Ali Jawad on his athletic journey and beyond:

Journey from the Paralympics to the Startup Realm

Competing in four Paralympic games was a hallmark of my career in elite power sports. These games not only represented the pinnacle of my athletic journey but also opened doors to new opportunities. Now, transitioning from the world of sports, I am co-founding an app named ‘Accessercise‘, tailored especially for individuals with disabilities. It’s a significant shift from the sports arena, but the startup world is just as challenging.

Overcoming Personal Battles

While many might consider my world title, paralympic medal, or setting the world record as my most significant achievements, I view things differently. For me, the most significant triumph was battling and overcoming Crohn’s disease to compete in the Tokyo Paralympics. These internal battles often remained unseen, but their impact was profound. Overcoming such hurdles required immense determination, support, and adaptability.

The Nutritional Challenge

Being at the peak of power sports required not only physical but also nutritional discipline. With Crohn’s disease in the picture, managing nutrition was difficult, but became even more critical, however, the journey was anything but straightforward. Thanks to top-tier facilities, I had access to the best practitioners, which was a blessing. The key was to adapt quickly and remain consistently committed, even when faced with extreme challenges.

The Dual Quest of Knowledge and Innovation

While I chase the vision of my startup, I am also immersing myself in academic research. My PhD at the University of Birmingham is centred around anti-doping and integrity issues in parasport, a controversial but crucial area. Just as in sports, the academic and startup world demands continuous evolution and adaptability, which has been helpful.

Redefining Work-Life Balance

It might sound unconventional, but the traditional concept of work-life balance is somewhat of a myth when aiming for peak performance. Excellence demands a certain level of imbalance, channelling most of your energy towards achieving that elite goal. I’ve always believed in setting the right environment to reach my aspirations. Solitude is a price I’m willing to pay. I’ve chosen a path few venture down. The commitment may be seen as excessive or even obsessive, branding it as delusional or eccentric. But it is important when people celebrate the outcomes, they should understand and recognise the process behind the success.

Support System: A Blend of Independence and Reliance

Throughout my journey, while close friends and family were foundational pillars of support, the path demanded independence. My approach often involved fostering an environment singularly focused on my sporting goals over social engagements. It’s not easy, but achievements require certain sacrifices. Many see only the glamorous highlights of professional sport, but remain unaware of the sacrifices behind the scenes. Success often comes with its share of missed birthdays, weddings and social events – this became the norm, an essential component of my job. In essence, these sacrifices are the essential components of reaching one’s goals.

Ali Jawad at Rio Paralympics

Resilience: A Hallmark of Success

Every adversity, including my battle with Crohn’s disease, has taught me valuable lessons about resilience and adaptability. Facing these challenges head-on has not only moulded me as an athlete but also as an individual. In the world of sports, where performance is paramount, resilience becomes the key to surmounting obstacles. The silver lining, if any, emerged when I realised that no athlete diagnosed with Crohn’s had ever secured a medal at the Olympics or Paralympics until 2009. Venturing into this uncharted territory was filled with uncertainties and every established plan was upended. Yet, it demonstrated what is possible even when faced with significant adversities. It’s essential to see challenges as opportunities rather than setbacks. I believe true resilience manifests when confronted with adversity. It’s in these moments that one discovers their real capabilities.

Navigating Athletic Transitions 

Many athletes struggle with transitions. World-class performance programmes do provide athletes with crucial transition support, including access to courses, networks and potential employers. This aid can extend up to a year post-retirement. However, for athletes outside these elite programmes, there is a notable support gap, so it is essential for these athletes to understand the need to diversify their skills and experiences, perhaps through education, ensuring they’re prepared for life after their athletic careers.

The Changing Perception of Athlete Education

In the past, Institutions like the UK Sports Institute prioritised sporting success, sometimes at the cost of an athlete’s external pursuits like education. Recent shifts in approach, however, have championed a more holistic view of athletes, encouraging them to undertake courses, network and to take part in workshops, to facilitate their transitions through sport. This provides them with a robust foundation for life post-sport, but challenges do persist, particularly  for those athletes not enrolled in national programmes.

Mental Health in High-Performance Sports

The glamorous facade of high-performance sports often masks a taxing lifestyle, demanding immense mental, emotional and physical strength. While the challenges of sports are inherent, governing bodies are increasingly realising the need to provide resources for athlete well-being. Enhanced support systems have emerged, but there remains a pressing need to adequately inform young athletes about the realities of elite sports.

The Dual Responsibility in Athlete Welfare

Ensuring athlete welfare is a mutual responsibility shared between the sporting collectives and the athletes themselves. While it’s imperative for governing bodies to provide essential tools and resources, athletes must actively engage with these provisions. Mentorship has its merits but hinges heavily on the receptiveness of the mentee and the mentor’s approach. An individualised coaching approach, emphasising an athlete’s personal journey, might offer a more effective alternative, something to be explored.

Guiding Future Athletes

For young athletes embarking on their journey, it is essential to be brutally honest about the challenges at the top level. Competing against world-class athletes can provide a genuine understanding of the standards required. Achieving success at junior levels is commendable, but it’s crucial to realise that real competition lies at the senior, world-class level. In the age of social media, it’s all too easy to get caught in the hype. However, humility, self-awareness and building fundamental, trusted support are paramount.

Athlete as the CEO

In the contemporary landscape, athletes are no longer passive participants; they are the CEOs of their careers. This perspective shift demands that athletes take proactive control, understanding each element of their support system. It’s a collaborative effort, but the athlete remains at the helm, steering the course of their destiny.