Their hearts are big enough to not only overcome adversity but to be champions as well. only overcome well.
THE stadium is hushed. Omar Qarada is making a second attempt to win a gold medal by lifting 172kg. He holds the bench-press bar motionless just above his chest, and with one steady move, lifts it, holds it – and wins a gold medal in the 48kg category of the Malaysia Open Powerlifting Championships held last week at Titiwangsa Stadium in Kuala Lumpur.
It’s an amazing feat considering Qarada weighs a mere 44.74kg. The 30-year-old from Jordan was born without lower limbs but that didn’t stop him from becoming a national athlete in paralympic powerlifting. Or from having a positively infectious zest for life!
“I expected to win,” Qarada says with a grin (through a translator).
“This sport is about mental fortitude as much as physical strength. I am aiming for the Paralympics in London. That is my goal and my heart is set towards making the team. I want to take home a gold medal for my country, with or without my legs,” says the young Jordanian, who is the youngest of nine siblings.
He credits his mother with being his inspiration. “My father has died. My mother was the one who lifted me and carried me through life. I would be nowhere without her. I love this sport and I want to excel in it.”
Qarada has already beaten the current Paralympics record for the 48kg category held by Nigerian Ruel Ishaku.
Paralympic powerlifting is one of the world’s fastest growing sports with over 100 nations competing nowadays. With athletes battling to lift ever greater weights against each other despite their disabilities, the sport offers a dramatic sporting spectacle.
Formerly known as weightlifting, the sport made its debut as a medal event at the second Paralympics Games in Tokyo in 1964. It has since expanded to include athletes with cerebral palsy or spinal injuries, lowerlimb amputees and “les autres” or “the other” disability groups including people who have dwarfism or have experienced amputation or limb loss, spinal cord injury, wheelchair users, and other cerebral palsy or brain injury disabilities. Women too joined the sport from the 2000 Sydney Games onwards. And from 25 nations at the 1992 Paralympic Games in Barcelona, the number of participating countries has grown to 109 countries across five continents today.
Athletes meet a strict criteria based on their impairment and are grouped by body weight into 10 categories: 48kg, 52kg, 56kg, 60kg, 67.5kg, 75kg, 82.5kg, 90kg, 100kg, and over 100kg. Each athlete is given three tries to raise a benchpress. They must lower the bench-press to their chest and hold it motionless, then press it upwards to arm’s length while keeping their elbows locked.
“The Malaysia championships is crucial as it’s the second last competition sanctioned by the International Paralympic Committee for rankings to qualify for the Paralympic Games 2012,” explains Lt-kdr (Retired) Kamaruzaman Kadir, Malaysia Powerlifting Para Association president.
Among the stars in the Malaysian camp is veteran Perumal Mariappan, who, at 54, is among the oldest competitors. He has won over 50 medals over the 30 years of being a national athlete, including the bronze at the 1988 Seoul Paralympics and 1992 Barcelona Paralympics. He finished fifth in Atlanta (1996), fourth in Sydney (2000) and fifth in Athens (2004).
ing veteran who, at comover 50 of includ1988 1992 He 1996), and
(Pic above) With steely determination in her eyes, Sharifah
raudzah, 39, is prepared for battle,
as she gets a push onto the competition platform from her team coach. (Pic
right) Sharifah warming up before going on to win silver
for Malaysia in the 75kg-82.5kg category.
Like all athletes everywhere in the world, gold was what everyone was chasing at the Malaysia open Powerlifting Championships.
Preparing body and mind: an athlete rubbing chalk over his palms to ensure the best grip. It takes incredible strength to grip and raise the immense weights above the chest, especially when the lower limbs cannot be used for balance.
Malaysian lifter Mariappan Perumal has been competing for 30 years and has won more than 50 medals since making his debut at the International Stoke Mandeville Wheelchair Sports Federation Games in London in 1981. yet, in his own country, he remains unknown and walks a lonely path without any financial security alongside his wife, b. Chandrigak, who is also disabled.
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british athlete Paul efenya, 34, balances his body weight and position with his prosthetic leg during warm ups. He won the bronze medal in the 100kg category by lifting 185kg.
Heart of a champion: omar Qarada keeps breaking his own records, and this time around, he easily picked up the gold in the 48kg category with a lift of 172kg at the Malaysia open Powerlifting Championship last week.
Sadly, the same can’t be said about support from outside the community of the differently abled, as Stadium Titiwangsa looked dispiritingly empty at times.
every athlete present was aiming for gold yet they displayed superb sportsmanship, as each one would cheer and support even their competitors in the same category.
It takes nerves of steel and sheer mental strength for each athlete to focus all their energy on the bar raised above their heads when they are surrounded by competition judges and officials for each lift.
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as great mental clarity and focus is vital to make a lift, Iranian competitor ali Sadeghzadehsalmani, 34, literally blocks out the world with a jacket over his face while he gets a muscle rub from an assistant. He won the gold in the up to 100kg category with a lift of 236kg, the heaviest weight achieved at the competition.