Sometimes, the Paralympics boils down to power. Power of the athletes – and power of the mind.

So for two of Great Britain’s Tokyo-bound powerlifters, Ali Jawad and Micky Yule, using the mental strength forged by adversity should prove a huge benefit when the clock ticks down to competition time in Japan.

Jawad’s battle with Crohn’s disease meant qualifying for the Games was never going to be easy - persistent health issues drastically affected his ability to train. But while some may have written off his chances, Jawad knew that while his body was tested to the limit, if his mind stayed strong, anything was possible.

“I took a medical route that was perceived to be the riskier route of my two options. But it was either retirement or take this route that’s never been done before,” he explains.

Jawad: "I needed to be smart"

“I knew when I chose that path there would be periods of non-training. I accepted that from the beginning. I needed to be smart, as I knew Crohn’s would try and catch me every step of the way.”

When the COVID pandemic struck and Tokyo 2020 was postponed by a year, Jawad grasped the opportunity. He was already used to periods of self-isolation due to his health; now there was a real chance to get to Tokyo.

“I was not going to qualify last year so that extra year gave me the chance to gain the physical attributes to get close,” admits the 32-year-old. “The extra year allowed me to train consistently and also meant I could bridge that gap to my rivals who weren’t used to being isolated, whereas I was.

“When adversity becomes your reality on a daily basis, you get used to it. Anything that gets in my way I try and find a solution rather than back away. Just to get to Tokyo is my medal.”

"Adversity becomes your reality"

Qualification has been far from easy for Yule too.

In 2017 the Scot volunteered to take part in a trial for military veterans that was designed to help amputees, where titanium rods were inserted in his femurs.

“Your prosthetic then attaches to the titanium,” explains Yule. “But what it means is the rods are permanently sticking out your legs so you have constant wounds that need to be treated every day.”

While Yule believes the procedure has positively affected his walking, as well as leaving him free of pain, he has faced other issues.

“If my body would accept the foreign objects now sticking out of me I’d be in a better place,” he admits. “The wound leaks and it just takes a wee bit out of me, but it just means you have to train a little bit smarter.

“It flew my qualification pathway up in the air for about two years as the strange thing was, even though I had titanium rods, I also kept breaking my leg. We were dealing with that and with infections - which was two years of hassle.”

Then, just when the 42-year-old thought he was back on track, the pandemic struck.

Juggling home schooling his children with training was hard enough, but come October reality hit home further as he tested positive for the illness.

Down to the wire

“I couldn’t believe it. I went to train and I was warming up and felt a really heavy flu. I was struggling to lift warm-up weights,” he explained. “I stopped training for two or three weeks and it was mentally tough – in your mind you’re saying ‘I need to lift heavy weights.’”

Yule’s qualification was down to the wire – in fact, down to the final lift at the final qualification tournament in Dubai this year.

“It was scary, it was exciting, but it was something I had envisaged happening. I was mentally prepared for that,” adds Yule, who matched his opponent in lifting 185kg – and took the top spot by virtue of the fact his body weighed just 20 grammes lighter.

“It was then or never. You have to get in your head what’s going to make you lift; mentally prepare for the weight through the arms. Sometimes you get in a tactical battle: because I was lighter, I just had to match him. It wasn’t about how much I could lift, but how much I could push him to miss his lifts.”

There’s no doubt Jawad and Yule look strong on the outside – but it’s also clear their inner mental strength has got them to where they are today.

Yule sums it up: “If life’s easy for you and everything falls in your lap then maybe you don’t need to rely so much on mental resilience. But for me and the guys on the team it seems like we can’t go three or six months without being tested.

“One thing we know is we are resilient, and we can bounce back. The mental capacity to endure a bit of suffering is something within our team that we can handle in spades - it takes a lot to count us out.”

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