Saturday, July 30, 2011

Trailblazer in the Five Seat

To be an elite athlete is to be a master of balance.
The best athletes I know balance their sport with jobs or classes.
Mo Sbihi, the five seat of Great Britain's 2012 Olympic Eight and the first Muslim ever to row for Britain, is working to balance rowing with his religion.
As a Catholic, I've been lucky in that my religion hasn't come into conflict with my athletics. If anything it makes me faster because Lent encourages me to work on my self discipline and I often come out of it fitter than I was on Ash Wednesday. Muslims, on the other hand, have a month of fasting during daylight as an essential tenet of their religion. (Sawm, which means fasting, is the fourth pillar of Islam.) Needless to say, this fasting can take a toll on one's performance in athletics. I witnessed this in high school when one of my teammates observed Ramadan during the cross country season, and I have to say that it was one of the most impressive displays of dedication I've ever seen in a teammate.
According to this Telegraph article, Sbihi had been observing Ramadan regularly until last year when he was told that fasting during altitude training would be dangerous. But rather than skip the month altogether, he moved it to the winter.
He says he will make a similar decision next year. A London Evening Standard article reveals that Sbihi will be postponing his fast until after the Olympics. Because I don't want to pretend that the Standard's reporting is my own, I won't steal their quotes (okay maybe just a clause), which make up a majority of the article. (The article is very short, and I recommend reading it. Takes ten seconds.) But I will say that I have tremendous respect for the way that Sbihi is conducting himself. He recognizes that what he's doing goes against his religion and does not seem to show contempt for those who would criticize him. But he also seems confident that Allah will understand, saying that "what I do is between Allah and me".
Perhaps his decision to postpone his fast is between him and Allah, but his maturity about it is an inspiration to us all.

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