Meet a boxer who avoided PTSD by pulling all the right punches
British-Afghan boxer Sohail Ahmad on rising above all obstacles to make an impact
"Be the man you want to be remembered as," reads Sohail Ahmad's bio on his official website. Well, the British-Afghan is certainly living by that mantra. Sohail is making a name for himself in the world of boxing. A world title fight may even be a reality for the light welterweight by the end of next year. But it hasn't been an easy journey for the 32-year-old.
Sohail's backstory is the stuff movies are made of - a poor, young boy, growing up to the sounds of AK-47 gunfire, with bombs exploding all around him, and having to watch people die, yet rising above all the odds to make a mark.
Sohail was all of 12 when he fled the war-torn frontier of Afghanistan to seek refuge in Britain, living in care homes for a considerable part of his life.
Every day brought more than its fair share of struggles but, 20 years on, Sohail has lived to tell the tale. "When I was seven years old, I couldn't have thought I would be living in London and working as a professional athlete," he tells us at a plush hotel in Dubai.
"But you know what they say, the world is your oyster. If you put in your hard work and believe in your dream and dedicate yourself to it, anything is possible. The journey was crazy, because I went to the UK from Afghanistan during the Taliban's reign. Times were bad, education was really bad, sport was non-existent, as was women's education. I went to the UK as an asylum seeker. When I later told my friends I went to the UK on the back of a lorry, they didn't believe me," he narrated.
Escaping a volatile environment into the bright lights of London has the potential to lure anybody to the city's more negative trappings, especially when one is living in care homes. But the memories of hard times back home kept Sohail from inching towards the dark side. He took up taekwondo as a means to make a life for himself, in between working odd jobs.
"Growing up in Afghanistan, I've seen bombs explode; I've been in so many scenarios where I nearly died. Imagine, as a five-year-old, you see people dying, you see dead bodies. Imagine your dad being dragged out to be killed. And you are screaming and holding onto him, and are begging those people, the Taliban, 'Please leave my dad alone.' I went through that. Growing up, all those memories, the trauma stays in your mind. Some people develop post-traumatic stress disorder. You have to be very strong-minded. That's what actually got me through those things. I could have turned to substance abuse while trying to get away from the pain, from the painful memories that I had. But, instead, I used those experiences to push myself towards my goals, to something that could enable me to give back to the people. I can actually inspire people with what I have done, from what I went through and yet managed to come this far," he explains.
Today, Sohail feels blessed because "God chose me to get away from there". He takes inspiration from the late Muhammad Ali, who once famously remarked, "Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee." The boxer in front of us is pretty much living by that principle. "I can achieve my dreams and I can also live my dream," he signs off.