By the time Mohammed Javed participated in his first Ironman competition, he was already 53 – an age when most people have begun making retirement plans.
But, for Javed, now a lithe 62, the Ironman competition in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, in March 2015, marked the beginning of a new life: one that took him on globe-trotting adventures around the world as he participated in more such challenges in France, Germany and Malaysia, among others.
“These are all ‘finisher’ medals,” he told the GDN proudly, pointing to an array of medals he brandished in one hand. “They are given to every athlete that participates in these competitions, regardless of which position they finish in.”
Given the tough nature of the Ironman Triathlon, which requires a 3.8km swim, a 180.2km bicycle ride and a marathon 42.2km run to be completed in under 17 hours, Javed had every reason to beam as he did.
“Even though it was my first Ironman,” he said, referring to the Port Elizabeth event, “I completed it in just over 14 hours and came seventh in my age category. I was extremely happy to just be able to participate in it and to complete it in the time that I managed was the icing on the cake, especially after the really taxing swim in the very rough sea.”
He repeated the feat in Malaysia, almost mirroring the time he managed in South Africa and actually bettered that in the next Ironman he registered for, which was in Nice, France.
“It was just by a few minutes and still just over 14 hours,” Javed laughed. “But, as every athlete will tell you, when you compete in such events, you’re not just competing with others, you’re also trying to outperform your previous attempt and trying to improve on it. So I was really happy about that.”
As someone who is essentially only a part-time athlete juggling a full-time job with his passion for running, Javed explained, he approached every competition with the clear understanding that winning was never an option – and that, just the thrill of being able to participate would have to do.
“There’s no way that someone like me, who works 12-14 hours and only gets a couple of hours to train every day, could hope to compete with elite, professional athletes, who are able to devote every day of the year to their training,” he added.
“But, again, I am so happy and blessed that I have been able to participate in these competitions, rub shoulders with those athletes, watch how they go about their business and learn and apply that to my own preparation.
“It’s all due to the very generous support I have been given by my benefactors who have sponsored me and enabled my participation in these events. I am especially grateful to the late Shaikh Ebrahim bin Abdulla Al Khalifa, who was the chairman of Bahrain Road Runners for over a decade, and the very generous Fouad Hussain Showaiter. Both these gentlemen went out of their way to financially support my participation in all these international events.”
The biggest blessing, Javed said, as he looked back on the 40 years he has spent in Bahrain since arriving here as a 22-year-old from Karnataka, India, in 1982, is the opportunity he’s had to grow and flourish as an athlete.
When he first landed in Bahrain, he worked initially as a labourer before a leading construction company hired him as a heavy machinery operator. Then, in 1989, he applied to a leading hotel and was hired in housekeeping and soon made the transition to bell captain.
And then, came the first of many lucky breaks. “The hotel used to have inter-department sports competitions,” Javed said. “I took part in one – a 3km race – and I finished it in 9 minutes 27 seconds. That was it – the trajectory of my life changed from then on.”
The hotel’s general manager was so impressed by his performance that he decided to encourage Javed by granting him access to the health club and swimming pool – usually only allowed to hotel guests and top management.
“I was always a good sportsman – in fact, I was, and still am, a good cricketer too,” Javed explained. “And, suddenly, my athletic ability had a chance to be nurtured and prosper. So I really focused on long-distance running after that. I had run sprints – 100m, 200m – in school, but this was a different ball-game altogether.”
He started participating in every long-distance race that took place in the kingdom, thereafter, and eventually ended up becoming a member of the Bahrain Road Runners, a group that focuses on long-distance running and cross-country races.
“I never missed a single race,” Javed exclaimed, proudly. “Triathlons, biathlons, duathlons, aquathlons … you name it, I participated in it! And I won most of them!”
Now, though, despite the fact that he is still running competitively – he just took part in a Half Ironman event in Dubai in March – Javed is grappling with a difficult decision.
“The last few years have been a bit tough, professionally,” he said, contemplating his medals which he had spread out on a table. “Especially after Covid-19 and now, while I do have a job with a food delivery company, I’ve decided to go back to India next month.”
Then, he perked up again.
“While it would be nice to go back to my village and live a quiet life,” he grinned, “I know I won’t be able to run competitively again. And so, just when I thought I’d made up my mind definitively about moving back, I received a call just today from one of my benefactors who urged me to consider staying back so that I could compete in more competitions. So, maybe, I’ll do that instead!”