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UAE paralympian getting by with a little help from his Phuket friends

UAE paralympian getting by with a little help from his Phuket friends

PARALYMPICS: When para-cyclist Ahmed Mubarak Al Mutaiwei takes to the track at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics on September 1st he is hoping a little bit of Phuket magic can help propel him to medal glory.

By Ben Tirebuck

Saturday 28 August 2021, 08:45AM

Ahmed, 40, spent time at Thanyapura in Phuket preparing for the Games, which started on Tuesday (Aug 24) in the Japanese capital. While he was here, by pure chance, he made the acquaintence of John “JJ” Bennett, who himself had recently taken on the “Tour de Phuket” cycle challenge which has so far raised over B500,000 for charity.

“I was out cycling on a Sunday in the rain when I came across a fellow cyclist who zipped past me at an incredibly high speed,” recalls John.

“When I discovered he was doing so with only one leg I was fascinated. We struck up a conversation and he recognised me from The Phuket News story on my Tour de Phuket challenge.”

John, a qualified coach and experienced bike-fitter, offered to help assess the performance of Ahmed’s trial bike that he will be using in Tokyo and so the duo went on a 60km ride.

“It was clear to me that Ahmed was fighting his bike and just wasn’t comfortable - in fact he told me he really didn’t like the bike very much at all,” John said.

“The next day he came to my lab and we conducted three hours of motion analysis and in-depth discussions on how we could improve Ahmed’s comfort and power output. We adjusted his saddle position by just 2.5mm and fitted some new pads for his arms on his aerobars which increased his comfort and made him more aerodynamic.”

The results out on the road the following day were astounding, said John. “He was pushing the same level of power with one leg that I do with two, reaching 62km per hour at one point – he was like a young boy at Christmas, itching for the Tokyo Games to begin!”

Courage, determination and natural talent’

Ahmed will compete in road and time trial cycling in Tokyo, the first paralympian cyclist to represent the UAE and one of only 12 athletes participating from the country.

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In 1997 the young Emirati was involved in a road accident while driving to work and suffered serious injuries to his leg. Despite undergoing 32 painful surgeries in places as far afield as Germany and the USA, ultimately the limb was amputated in 1998.

“It’s a period of time that I would just like to forget,” Ahmed told Gulf News back in 2016.

Because his amputation was so high it was impossible to fit a prosthetic meaning Ahmed relied on crutches to walk. However, in 2014 he found a doctor who was able to insert a metal strut into his pelvis which then allowed a prosthetic to be attached, enabling him to walk properly for the first time in 16 years. He started off by walking 1km in around 20 minutes and gradually built up to 10km in 1 hour 30 minutes.

The following year Ahmed’s wife gave him a mountain bike to help keep him active although it wasn’t until two years later that he started training seriously. In no time at all he was competing at international level, winning over 20 medals in events in Europe and Asia, most notably silver at the 2018 European Cup and silver in Uzbekistan in 2019.

He had to undergo a punishing schedule, travelling and competing at events in 13 different countries, to secure qualification for Tokyo but now he is ready.

“To reach that level in just three years is unbelievable and shows his courage, determination and natural talent,” commented John.

“His 17-year-old son, an able-bodied athlete, is representing UAE at the Junior World Track Championships the week after Tokyo, so the sports gene has obviously been passed on,” he added with a smile.

“I can count on one hand the athletes who have ever impressed me to the highest level and Ahmed is now one of those. He is also an incredibly humble and nice guy. I wish him the very best for his Tokyo adventure,” John concluded, fondly.

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