Coming into 2020, I was full of excitement and hope with my fourth Paralympic Games on the horizon. I had put my stem cell trial treatment on hold for my Crohn’s disease in order to give myself the best chance to qualify for Tokyo 2020. No one could have predicted the turn of events that would impact so many lives. When the Covid-19 virus postponed the Olympic and Paralympic Games, I was in support as people were dying and sport should never take precedence over life. However, I had a big dilemma, due to the deadline of the stem cell trial being in early 2021, it meant my Paralympic dream was over.
I sat in total darkness for a few hours comprehending my Crohn’s disease journey, the resilience and adaptability my team and I have demonstrated, and the satisfaction that even though this was the end for me, it took a world pandemic to end my hopes, not Crohn’s itself. I looked back at all my major championship medals and was proud I could retire happy. The next day, in the most unexpected twist to my ever-changing story, I got the news that the stem cell trial had been delayed and I will get my chance of Tokyo in 2021. If I was totally honest, I would have struggled to make the games had they been held in 2020. The news meant that I had another 16 months to regain my fitness and allowed me a second chance. I felt that little bit of hope, in a time of uncertainly was going to be the foundation of improving all aspects of my development as Ali the person, not the athlete.
Given the lockdown measures, I wanted to use my time productively, I wanted something to celebrate post lockdown, after all, I cannot train more than necessary. So, with the help of Versapak, I started a PhD in anti-doping in Para sport which I’m highly enjoying. But the biggest win of my year was building and creating a fitness app especially designed for disabled people. Accessercise, will be launched in the summer of 2021 where I’m hoping it gives access to exercise like never seen to the disability community. These tough times have emphasised the need to give disabled people means to exercise when they are more vulnerable than most. I hope that I can create a platform that disabled people can be proud of and make it their own.
So here I am again, anticipating that 2021 will be the biggest year of my life and even though my Paralympic outcome is unpredictable, I have so much to look forward to with the app, PhD and my health being stable. I’m living proof that in total darkness, there is always a gap for some light. You just have to find something that you can look forward to. Here’s to a healthy and successful 2021!