WKND Spotlight: UAE resident set to take up unique fitness challenge after colon cancer
The athlete is hoping to complete 30 sports in 30 days.
If you’re looking for inspiration to get active, you need to meet Mohammad Hassan Rahma. The Emirati is a self-confessed adrenaline junkie and the UAE’s first international surfer. But that’s just part of his extraordinary tale.
The 33-year-old has been fighting an inflammatory bowel disease called ulcerative colitis for the last 15 years. A sporting injury forced him to reconsider his dreams of a career in international football. Then, earlier this year, he was diagnosed with cancer and had to have his colon removed. Now, the sports enthusiast is raring to set himself a bold new challenge at the Dubai Fitness Challenge: 30 sports in 30 consecutive days.
WKND reached out to the athlete to find out what keeps him swimming against the tide.
‘Slap in the face’
One of the first things Mohammed tells us is a most ironic fact about himself: he hates fitness training. “I really don’t like running long distances or swimming laps for the sake of it,” he laughs. “That’s why I prefer sports, because then you have friends around and it becomes more about the camaraderie than exercise.”
Mohammed says he started his career playing football with Dubai Football Club. He had to choose university over a professional career in the sport, but eventually got to line up for the UAE’s national rugby team, playing internationally. It was an experience through which he suddenly found his eyes opened to the wider world of sports. “Growing up, everyone around me only played football, so I didn’t have much exposure to other sports. When a friend introduced me to rugby, I found that I really enjoyed it and decided to explore what else was out there.”
What Mohammad discovered was a slew of activities: from motorised sports to water sports, combat sports and more. And he went after each of them with the passion of a true enthusiast. Even a chronic condition like ulcerative colitis couldn’t dampen his verve. “The condition has definitely made life harder for me, and the first year was the most difficult. But I’ve learnt to cope with it, by making the lifestyle changes I needed.”
Then came the cancer diagnosis earlier this year, followed by surgery to remove his colon. That setback was particularly difficult to navigate. “When I learnt that I would need an external ileostomy bag attached to me, it was the biggest slap in the face. I had so many questions. Would I still be able to do everything I did before? Would I be able to lay down on my board? Would I be able to continue pursuing my adrenaline-junkie goals?”
Though it was a “super emotional” time for him, Mohammad eventually resolved to figure out how to get back to his former life — and to do so on record, so “other people can see it can be done” too.
Testing his limits
That’s where the idea for the ‘30 sports in 30 days’ came from. From rock climbing to jiu jitsu, fencing to water polo, and free diving to wakeboarding, horse-riding and sepak takraw (foot volleyball), Mohammad can’t wait to show the UAE that sports is for everybody. “Fitness is a way of life,” he says. “It makes the quality of life so much better. It also doesn’t necessarily mean going to the gym. You can pick a sport and decide for yourself whether you prefer low or high intensity ones — but there’s really no excuse to not do anything. You just need to put your mind to it.”
Even the 30 sports that he plans to do don’t begin to scratch the surface of what’s available in the country, says the athlete. Currently, he is training hard, yet still testing his body’s limits, post-surgery. Do his loved ones or doctors tell him to slow down? “People are always telling me to slow down, even before the surgery,” he laughs. “I have been taking it slow though with some exercise, yoga and free diving. It’s a bit uncomfortable as the bag does get in the way, but it’s been almost two weeks, and so far, I’ve had no issues.”
Of course, to anyone looking to follow in his footsteps, Mohammad advises that they always get a doctor to clear them before attempting a fitness activity. However, his appeal to those struggling with a long-term disease is: don’t suffer in silence. “Reach out to the fitness community, because it’s huge and there are a lot of people who are very helpful.”
Mohammad is no stranger to pain, but he strongly believes the battle is first won in the mind. “Our mind is stronger than anything else, than even our bodies. I’ve had 12 surgeries. I have a chronic condition and now walk around with an external bag attached to me. It all depends on how you look at it. I believe things happen to people so we can help each other out. Personally, I can’t wait to get back into the water and catch some waves. But more than that, it’s become about spreading the message that we can still do what we want, no matter what life throws our way.”