How Moroccan Paralympian Kassioui beat cerebral palsy and society | Sports News


Benslimane, Morocco – Below the blazing summer season solar, and never nervous concerning the drops of sweat forming on her face contours that quiver involuntarily with Parkinson’s tremors, Paralympics medalist Fouzia El Kassioui devotedly went about her coaching within the Moroccan city of Benslimane.

She grabbed a silver on the Tokyo Paralympic Video games however her journey to the medal within the F33 shot put occasion was “removed from simple”, she says, earlier than including: “However I did it.”

Apart from Parkinson’s illness – which progressively damages the mind, affecting motion, speech and psychological capability – Kassioui, on the age of 10, was additionally identified with cerebral palsy, a situation that causes physique stiffness, affecting physique movement and coordination, and results in fixed ache on the joints.

Her persistence at sports activities started as defiance to high school bullying, as her physique’s tremors restricted her capacity to do what different youngsters her age may do.

By way of an insatiable ardour for sports activities, she overcame bodily, social and monetary hurdles to first obtain normalcy after which in the end excel.

“Daily, I’d come again from college and repeat, in entrance of my mom, the aerobatic strikes we had been proven by our sports activities instructor,” she advised Al Jazeera.

Unaware till she was 24 that sure sports activities had been extra appropriate for these with bodily disabilities, Kassioui spent her childhood attempting to mix in.

“I keep in mind clearly my daughter, as a teen, rolling on the ground many times, repeating aerobics workouts till she nailed them,” Kassioui’s mom, Al-Zahra al-Arifi, advised Al Jazeera, smiling fondly on the reminiscence.

She additionally recalled, with ache, how she first observed one thing totally different about her daughter – a slight tilt within the 10-year-old’s head – and her shock when advised of her well being situations.

“It was very tough to just accept,” mentioned the mom of 4.

Paralympic athlete Fouzia El Kassioui
A whole stranger on a wheelchair, to whom Kassioui expressed her love for sports activities, directed her to Al-Ahd Al-Jadid Affiliation, which offered her with the steerage, assist and mentorship she wanted [Soulaimane Bakbach/Al Jazeera]

Widowed solely months earlier than Kassioui’s analysis, Arifi labored within the fields as a helper to offer for her youngsters.

Kassioui mentioned her mom’s sacrifices had been what drove her.

“It’s the least I can provide to my mom and the smallest providing to dedicate to my late father,” she mentioned.

Simply as coincidental as the invention of her sickness, the launch of Kassioui’s skilled sports activities profession was additionally serendipitous.

By 2017, she had given up on making it as an expert resulting from what she thought was an entire absence of assist for folks along with her situation.

This was till she randomly bumped into one other shot put athlete in a wheelchair whereas operating errands.

Telling him of her love for sports activities, she mentioned he gave her recommendation that “modified her life” and to which she “stays in debt”, guiding her to Benslimane’s Al-Ahd Al-Jadid Affiliation.

By way of the affiliation, Kassioui received a devoted coach to oversee her exercises and progress.

On the organisation, Kassioui was launched to the javelin, shot put and discus, instantly directing her physique’s muscle tissue and expertise in direction of mastering them.

Halima al-Dhubli, her first coach who launched her to shot put and its fundamentals, advised Al Jazeera that Kassioui labored laborious from day one.

“I didn’t doubt her achievement. She earned it,” mentioned al-Dhubli.

Kassioui’s physique, although, was now struggling to tackle the brand new bodily pressure and she or he had not even dreamt of coming into tournaments.

“It was not till after months of constant coaching that I considered tournaments. And once I did, sports activities opened horizons to me I by no means knew existed or I’m able to,” she mentioned.

In 2019, after two years of in depth coaching, Kassioui received three gold medals on the 2019 Tunis World Para Athletics Grand Prix, setting a brand new discus F32 world report alongside the way in which.

She then received bronze within the F33 shot put on the 2019 World Para Athletics Championships in Dubai, whereas ending sixth within the javelin occasion.

Hamid El Aouni, chairman of the Royal Moroccan Federation of Sports activities for the Disabled, mentioned Kassioui’s ardour and drive led to the achievements.

“Gold medals sooner or later, together with on the Paralympic Video games, is one thing she will be able to simply obtain,” he mentioned.

Echoing related confidence in Fouzia’s talents, Abdelouahab Lakhdar, coach of the Moroccan nationwide athletics group of gamers with particular wants, described her as “a placing drive”.

“Her enthusiasm and power rank her among the many elite of the world’s feminine gamers. She defied obstacles and turned them right into a supply of power till she received a priceless Paralympic silver medal. How may she not be a world-class participant?” Lakhdar mentioned.

Hayat El Garaa, Kassioui’s good friend, received bronze within the discus F41 class of quick stature at Tokyo’s Paralympic Video games. She describes Kassioui as having a “daring” character, which makes her a “one-of-a-kind athlete”.

Paralympic athlete Fouzia El Kassioui
Fouzia El Kassioui spent her childhood doing sports activities to show she was like different youngsters [Soulaimane Bakbach/Al Jazeera]

Having secured skilled mentorship and coaching by way of the nationwide affiliation, Kassioui confronted one other key problem: The absence of a venue close by that was applicable for exercising her shot put strategies.

Within the lead-up to Tokyo’s 2020 video games, and regardless of her household’s concern for her security, she dragged her places, exercising chair and ring to the town’s public park, round quarter-hour from house, each night when the guests had left and solely the homeless and drifters remained.

“I received’t fake that I wasn’t scared for my very own security each time I walked to the park, however my targets stored me going,” she mentioned.

Kassioui recalled how she typically confronted hurtful feedback from these passing by, for being a younger lady, having bodily limitations, and training an unusual sport properly into the night time.

In response to her mom, the belittling and insulting feedback pointed to her daughter’s well being situations or what is predicted of her by society as a lady.

“‘You’re a lady. What are you doing out right here at this hour?’ or ‘Somebody such as you shouldn’t be out right here alone’ are some feedback that had been hurled at her, like she is unfit to do or be something,” al-Zahra mentioned of the feedback.

However returning house from Tokyo with a silver medal modified the whole lot, the athlete mentioned, describing how youngsters and adults would cease and ask for selfies.

“I like for them to share the happiness and satisfaction I felt the day I received that medal – a day I’ll always remember. I remembered the whole lot tough I went by way of. It was all so laborious,” she mentioned.

“I couldn’t imagine it then, and generally I nonetheless can’t imagine it occurred. It feels implausible. I lastly achieved what I had all the time needed however believed was unattainable. It’s jumbled feelings of remembering the challenges which have been, and likewise being conscious that extra lie forward, however with barely extra assist,” she added.

An instance of such assist, she mentioned, is the coaching spot allotted by the Ministry of Youth and Sports activities at Benslimane’s Membership Socio-Sport after her Paralympic Video games feat.

Because the venue is completely hers to make use of, she is spared from having to hold the heavy package forwards and backwards, and has the assistance of a devoted guard to arrange her tools.

“I’ve my very own place to observe. It isn’t that huge, however it’s higher than the general public park,” she mentioned.

Mona Atef, Kassioui’s gymnasium coach, mentioned the medal “labored like magic” on how the neighborhood in Benslimane perceives Kassioui and her journey.

“Everybody is aware of her now. On the gymnasium the place she workouts, everybody witnessed the trouble she had put into getting this far,” she mentioned, additionally referring to a again damage that the athlete had sustained earlier than Tokyo’s Paralympics, which didn’t deter her from displaying up and coaching.

Other than the bodily and logistical hurdles, monetary burdens have additionally weighed down on Kassioui and her household all through her skilled profession.

The athlete, who was compelled to desert her schooling after secondary college as a result of her jerky actions made it unattainable to sit down for written exams, mentioned work alternatives had been restricted – particularly given her well being situation.

Kassioui’s struggles with schooling are commonplace amongst Moroccans with disabilities.

In response to native media stories, almost seven % of Morocco’s 37 million inhabitants faces numerous bodily and psychological challenges, however simply over 55 % go to high school, and a mere 1.8 % handle to carry greater levels.

Realising her pursuit {of professional} sports activities requires cash, Kassioui didn’t need to throw this load on her mom, so she launched a enterprise to promote make-up objects on-line.

“It’s a job that fits my bodily capabilities, and likewise covers my gymnasium and package bills,” she defined.

With a renewed sense of hope and empowerment, Kassioui is now contemplating going again to high school subsequent yr, particularly after the Ministry of Training agreed to offer somebody to assist her write down solutions throughout exams.

In the intervening time, Kassioui’s major aim is to win gold medals. Since her return from Tokyo, she has been following a inflexible coaching schedule though she doesn’t have a transparent plan, or dates, for upcoming regional and worldwide championships.

“At any time when they are going to be or wherever they’ll be held,” she mentioned, “I’ll be able to win gold.”

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