Today it is our privilege to bring you an interview Ali Jawad, Paralympic Powerlifting Silver Medalist. We discuss Ali’s method for setting and working towards goals in all areas of his life, how to overcome moments when we’re feeling demotivated, his advice on transforming a passion into a career and much more…
How did your passion for powerlifting begin and develop?
When I was 6 years old, I watched the Atlanta 1996 Olympics and witnessed Michael Johnson achieve the historic 200m & 400m double in athletics. When he stood up on top of the podium, the steer emotion, the tears, the roar of the crowd, it made me want that feeling. From that moment, I knew I wanted to be at the Paralympics, hoping one day I’ll be on top of the podium like him, feeling the emotions he felt. The issue was I knew that having been born with no legs, I needed to find a sport that I was good enough to give myself a chance of getting there.
When I was 11, I started Judo. It was my first love of sport and a sport that was good at. I did Judo for 4 years, dedicating 4 days a week after school and competing at national and international events. I thought this was the sport that will get me to the Paralympic Games. However, in 2004 just before the Athens Paralympics, I found out that Judo did not accommodate my disability as there is no classification for amputees in Judo at the games. It was only open to the visually impaired and blind. I was heartbroken and decided to retire and focus on my GCSE’s. I decided that maybe my Paralympic dream was over and that my exams were more important.
However, after my Maths GCSE exam my friend forced me to go to the gym across the school. It was an “old school” gym and it was really intimidating for the 16-year-old. At that age, all you care about is how much can you lift, so we found a bench press in the corner, and he kept loading my bar. On my first attempt in the gym I bench pressed 100kg. The whole room stopped and looked at me like I was crazy. A very large man came up to me and asked me to wait as he wanted to get the owner of them gym. This made me panic as I thought I had done something wrong. However, the owner explained that what I had lifted on my first attempt, with my age is the incredible and I needed to comeback as he thought I could make the Paralympics! When I hope my hope was over, he gave me a second chance. Ever since, I am lucky to have represented Great Britain at 3 Paralympic Games, winning every major medal along the way including winning silver in Rio 2016. I’m hoping to go one better at the Tokyo Paralympics this year.
What are your personal stand-out moments from your career so far?
My first major championship gold was at the World Championships in 2014, which also started a period of being undefeated and being world number 1 over a 2-year period. I also broke numerous world records along the way. However, even though winning major medals meant a lot to me, it was all about the Paralympic Games, that’s the one medal I had always dreamt of. So winning silver in Rio was a dream come true.
My other stand out moments has been fighting Crohn’s disease since 2009 and facing the challenge of an incurable disease and still competing at world class level. Proud to be only one of two athletes with Crohn’s Disease (the other is Kathleen Baker) to have ever won a medal at the Olympic or Paralympic Games.
I’m also proud of being an anti-doping advocate, fighting for clean sport and athlete representation.
What advice would you give to someone who is demotivated or doesn’t know where to start with getting into sport and fitness?
My main advice is having a goal that truly motivates you to push yourself to your potential daily. Within that main goal, it’s important to focus on the day to day, practice consistency, and having a flexible and adaptable plan for unexpected challenges.
Are there any people, books, or experiences that you would be willing to share with us, that have really helped shape your mentality?
I always tell people to not have role models, they should be their own role models, and if you do get inspired by someone, then aim to achieve greater things than their idols. As people can control their own destinies if you really focus on becoming great.
I grew up with the Rocky Balboa films, the character represented everything I wanted to become. The story of the spirit and will of someone that had to battle through life’s adversities at every step, is how I wanted to live. How much are you willing to take and keep moving forward! The idea that the outcome should not define you, but the process should be your story. I was lucky enough to meet Sylvester Stallone in 2018, the man is even more impressive in real life. I came away that night even more inspired!
I recommend reading or listening to Chop Wood Carry Water – How to fall in love with the process of becoming great by Joshua Medcalf.
What advice would you give to someone who is trying to take their passion for health and fitness, or anything else, and turn it into a successful business/ career?
My main advice is to constantly keep learning, educating yourself, and invest in yourself. It’s the best investment of your life. The fitness industry is very competitive, so you need to have something that relates to people and makes you standout. It’s also important to keep networking as you never know when you will need those contacts.
What do you think are the most important characteristics to develop in order to pursue your ambitions?
The things I have learned over my career is having patience, don’t rush complicated processes, be resilient, persistent, rational, having no excuses taking accountability of your actions and always FIND A WAY no matter the task at hand. Always push for self-improvement. I have a motto I live by “Don’t be afraid to live in darkness, for a shot at the light”. You always need to give yourself a fighting chance at the light (or goal). The one thing that stands out for me, is not measuring outcome as a measure of success, your success should be measured on the process and the fact you did not give up, those lessons are more valuable than any outcome.
Life will always want to break you, so you might as well break life back!
Do you have a specific method to setting and working towards your goals?
I have a very detailed approach to working towards my goals. With setting high aims, it’s important to cover every risk (big or small) and make sure there is a plan in place for anything. Expect the plan to change with unexpected challenges, therefore your plan needs to be flexible and adaptable. Make sure you monitor things on a daily basis so you can track progress but see potential risks in the future. Expect the bumps in the process as learning and a test to how much you want to achieve your goals.
What are you goals and plans for the future?
My immediate goal is challenging and being competitive at the Tokyo Paralympic Games this year. Longer term, as anti-doping and the protection of clean athletes is something that I have been passionate about throughout my career, my aim is to study anti-doping related PhD and keep being an advocate for athletes within sport. Sport will always be part of my life post competitive career.