WHEN Paralympic Powerlifter Ali Jawad takes centre stage at Rio 2016, he might take a brief second to wonder how is even there at all.
It is fair to say he has had his fair share of bad luck.
At London 2012 in his home town in front of family, friends and 6,000 British fans, he was controversially denied a first career medal on the biggest stage by a contentious judging decision.
Initially poised to win a silver medal, he eventually slid agonisingly outside the medals into fourth, leaving the 27-year-old staring in an abyss of depression and resentment for the very sport to which he devoted his life.
He told SunSport: “It was probably the most heartbreaking moment of my life. I was definitely thinking about retiring completely – I just couldn’t take much more mentally and physically.
“Afterwards I indulged, to try not to think about the games, but deep down I was hurting more than anything.”
But that heartbreak four years ago does not even begin to tell the story of Jawad’s battle against adversity, starting at birth when he was born without legs in war-torn Lebanon where doctors asked his parents whether they wanted to kill the newborn there and then.
But the family fled to Tottenham, north London, where he grew up, taking up there sport aged 16.
It all came crashing down on the eve of his first ever games at Beijing 2008 when he suddenly became sick, ruining the teenager’s tournament and putting his career – and life – in danger.
Party TimeJessica Ennis-Hill and Tom Daley join host of Rio 2016 medal winners on red carpet for Team GB Ball
THE REAL BOLTUsain Bolt: It's hard to stay hungry and motivated to carry on racing... what do I have left to prove?
HEROES RETURNOlympic Team GB heroes reach London to show off incredible medal haul and thank fans for support in Rio
Rock n Rio'llTens of thousands flood the streets of Manchester to celebrate Team GB's record Rio 2016 medal haul
jess perfectJessica Ennis-Hill retires from heptathlon as a legend, a mother, a winner... and above all, a nice person
enn-d of the roadJessica Ennis-Hill announces retirement as Team GB legend confirms her time in sport is over
BOLT'S BACKParty animal Usain Bolt visits London again after a frantic summer of Olympic medals, parties & lederhosen
HERO'S WELCOMEWhere will the Team GB 2016 Olympics parade take place? Routes, dates and how to watch
TUE MUST BE JOKINGDick Pound mocks use of strong medication for asthma as he raised worries about its use a DECADE ago
Doctors diagnosed Crohn’s disease, an incurable and debilitating bowel condition which forced him to retire from the sport in 2009 before having major life-threatening surgery to remove part of his intestine a year later.
After London’s heartbreak, Jawad took a six month break, before deciding to return to his Loughborough base and begin working on what would ultimately be an outstanding next three years.
He said: “I was 90% certain I was going to quit, but deep down I knew had to snap out of my depressed state and fight until the end to right the wrongs of London in Rio.”
He broke the World Record in 2013, become World Champion in his -59kg weight class in 2014 and claim European Championship gold last year.
Part of this recent success is his successful attempt to keep his Crohn’s under wraps through a completely clean lifestyle – but above all it is his steely determination to prove everyone wrong having been written off so many times.
But Jawad, who recently posed nude along with other Paralympians to smash stereotypes, is determined to manage expectations and treat today’s straight final in Rio as just another day at the office.
He said: “I mean, less drama would be nice for a start! But I really want to show people that it is the competition where I can reach my potential.
“I have done some special things in the last couple of years and if I manage to put it all together and have an incredible day at the games, I could do something remarkable.
“Today is the biggest day of my life but I need to treat it as just another glorified gym routine – so I will be calm. It helps in a way that I don’t think I’m going to win the gold, but I want to come back with a medal.”
Those lessened expectations are due to Egypt’s Sherif Othman, who has won the past two Paralympic titles in he -56kg weight class before moving up to Jawad’s category in 2014 – but it is a challenge Jawad relishes.
He said: “Othman is one of the greatest lifters ever, but I wouldn’t have it any other way because you want to compete and try and wind gold against the best. If I can take him all the way I will be proud.”
The peak for Paralympic lifters is between 27 and 33, and Jawad believes he has at least another two games after Rio – but there is a resolve within him to banish his demons here and now, and in doing so become the first Crohn’s sufferer to ever win a medal at either the Olympics or Paralympics.
He added: “Post London, a lot of people thought I was done and should retire.
“But that was all a one off and hopefully on the past – I realised I can’t just end my career with that being my last memory.
” I am still young and still improving and on my day I can compete against the best in the world. So why not now?”