Life-altering operation keeps Olympic dream alive for Emirati surfer

Life-altering operation keeps Olympic dream alive for Emirati surfer
Mohammad Hassan had his colon removed after years of discomfort. Now he has Tokyo in his sights. (MoSurfRelease)
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Updated 02 March 2021

Life-altering operation keeps Olympic dream alive for Emirati surfer

Life-altering operation keeps Olympic dream alive for Emirati surfer
  • Mohammad Hassan had his colon removed after years of discomfort. Now he has Tokyo in his sights
  • The operation to have the Stoma changed his life for the better and kept the dream alive, and now he is faced with option of having another operation which would do away with the bag

DUBAI: On his surfboard, waiting for the next wave.

Mohammad Hassan is never happier than when he is alone in the water.

The story of the Emirati’s attempt to be the only Arab surfer at the Tokyo Olympics would be inspiring at the best of times. But as it happens, Hassan also had to overcome a debilitating and life-threatening disease to follow his dream.

The baggage, in his case, is quite literal.

In August 2020, the 33-year-old had his colon removed, and the professional surfer now passes solid waste through a stoma in his abdomen that connects to a waterproof pouch called an ostomy bag.

“The first thing that came to my mind was, would I be able to live a normal life,” he said of his post-surgery state of mind.

“Would I be able to do my sports? All these things kicked in, and also looking at surgery itself, because I had to have a stoma, the first thing that came up was, would I be able to lay down on my board? Especially as I was trying to qualify for the Olympics.”

A naturally positive person, Hassan was nonetheless racked with concerns.

Will I be able to compete? Will I be able to do all the things I did before?

“Having the stoma was very difficult,” he said. “In my mind it was very difficult to lay down on my board, that was the main concern.”

Diagnosed with ulcerative colitis 15-years-ago meant that Hassan, a talented football and rugby player, could barely function in his everyday life, never mind in competitive sports.

Leaving the pitch every few minutes for bathroom break soon ended his team sports aspirations.

After moving to Australia, the Emirati increasingly found solace in surfing.

“Watersports were the perfect scenario,” he said. “I could sit in the water, enjoy my time.”

“[At first] I never knew what surfing was,” he said.

“So when I got injured playing rugby, through rehabilitation in the water I saw people surf and that’s how I got into it. I really enjoy the water. Water was my escape from everything. Every time I would go in the water, I’d feel at ease, I’d feel really good, I’d forget everything that happened during the day. And when I found sport I could do in the water, that was it, I clicked with it.”

He would carry his love of surfing with him to the US and eventually back home to the UAE.

“Sports come naturally to me, but I picked up surfing super well,” said Hassan, who was encouraged to pick the sport by his Australian friends.

“From the first time I caught the first wave, it felt good, it felt comfortable. I think I picked up really quick. I was born a surfer.”

But over the years medication could not improve Hassan’s illness, and he returned to the UAE two years ago.

During a routine follow-up for a patient with ulcerative colitis, a colonoscopy revealed pre-cancerous cells in Hassan’s colon. What was a daily inconvenience became life-threatening.

A team of surgeons and pathologists at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi advised a total colectomy – the removal of the colon.

Successful surgery meant saving his life by eliminating cancer, and effectively curing his colitis, eliminating his symptoms.

Hassan would have to carry the bag with him, but he had his life back.

That he was soon back on his surfboard and dreaming of Olympic glory is testament to his willpower as much as it is to the team of doctors.

“In the past we used to do surgeries like this the traditional way,” said Dr. Shafik Sidani, the colorectal surgeon who performed the surgery at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi.

“Which is open [surgery], big incision down the abdomen and basically the patients stay for many days if not weeks in the hospital. They don’t eat and drink for a while and when they recover, it’s slow recovery.”

Modern advances mean such operations are now carried out with small keyhole incisions, ensuring less pain and quicker recovery time for the patients.

A procedure called Enhanced Recovery After Surgery (ERAS) played a big role in Hassan’s return to a normal life.

“It’s basically a pathway in patient care that starts the moment the patient walks through the door with a diagnosis,” Sidani added.

“We prepare the patient for surgery physically, mentally and we set expectations, we educate the patient. We involve the patient in the care and the decision of the treatment.”

“Mo added another element to all this in that the stars aligned with him and with our pathway, with his motivations, his expectations and what he wanted out of this,” the doctor added.

“So he took it to another level, really pushed himself to recover quicker. He didn’t play the sick role for as long, he tried to move on.”

Now Hassan is taking the steps back into professional surfing and looking to emulate some of his heroes

“My favorites are ‘John John’ Florence and Julian Wilson,” he said.

“I really enjoyed the way they surf, I enjoyed their creativity on the water, and I really like their Air Game, so they were my go-to surfers. I surfed with John John so that was dream come true."

Pursuing the biggest dream of all, surfing in the Olympics, did not happen overnight. The World Cup of surfing came first.

“My coach Matt told me, ‘why don’t you compete for the UAE? I don’t think anyone has competed from the Gulf countries.’ Give it a go, I’m going to teach you, I’m going to help you out and we’ll see how it goes’. I agreed,” Hassan recalls of a conversation in 2018.

It worked.

Qualification to the World Surfing Games followed, where he was the only surfer form the Middle East.

Then came the World Qualification Series (WQS) for the World Surf League. A few wins got him “excited”.

And when surfing was announced as an Olympic sport for the Tokyo Games, his path was set.

The operation to have the Stoma changed his life for the better and kept the dream alive, and now he is faced with option of having another operation which would do away with the bag.

It’s a decision he is pondering as he is happy with the quality of life he is currently enjoying, as proven by his participation in the Dubai Fitness Challenge 2020, playing 30 different sports in 30 days.

The Final Olympic Surfing Qualifier in El Salvador at the end of May will determine his fate.

Hassan admits to being a bit rusty after the operation, and Covid-19 restrictions have not helped his training program.

But it will all be worth it if he makes it to Japan wearing his country’s colors.

And what would it mean to represent the UAE at the Olympics?

“Everything,” Hassan said. “The UAE has given me so much, and I think this is the time for me to pay it back.”


Talisca snubs Al-Hilal for Riyadh rivals Al-Nassr via social media video

Talisca snubs Al-Hilal for Riyadh rivals Al-Nassr via social media video
Updated 30 min 5 sec ago

Talisca snubs Al-Hilal for Riyadh rivals Al-Nassr via social media video

Talisca snubs Al-Hilal for Riyadh rivals Al-Nassr via social media video
  • The Brazilian was expected to join the reigning champions, but confirmed his move from Guangzhou FC to AL-Nassr in a clip that will ensure next season’s derby will have added spice

LONDON: Next season’s Riyadh Derby is going to be even more electric than usual.

Reigning Saudi Pro League champions Al-Hilal had spent much of May negotiating with Brazilian star Talisca, but there he was on Tuesday on Al-Nassr’s Twitter channel announcing a quite unexpected move to the Saudi capital.

In a video that showed him watching a video of Al-Hilal in action, and then laughing out loud, the 27 year-old held up that famous yellow shirt to the camera to inform fans that he was joining Al-Nassr from Guangzhou FC.

 

 

It remains to be seen who will be laughing next season.

The player who was hailed as the next big Brazilian star in his teenage years, and despite being linked at one time with Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool, still has much to prove.

The move has upset a few people in China as well. The attacking midfielder, who can also play further up the pitch, enjoyed two-and-a-half successful seasons in China with Guangzhou FC and won the Chinese Super League title in 2019.

Fans of the two-time Asian champions feel that their club should have held out for more than the reported fee of one million euros.

With just a year remaining on his contract, the figure should perhaps have been five or six times that.

For a player who scored 39 goals in 65 appearances in China and managed 13 assists, Al-Nassr have got themselves a bargain.

One reason for that is that Al-Nassr’s new star hasn’t played this year.

This was not due to injuries or form, but regulations stopping him from re-entering China.

Talisca has been stuck in Brazil and unable to actually get inside the country to play for Guangzhou.

Club coach Fabio Cannavaro, understood that the time was right to release him.

The concern for Guangzhou is that Talisca’s colleague and compatriot Paulinho has the same travel issues, and the club are now keen not to lose their biggest star.

That is not Al-Nassr’s concern, though they will want to know how to get the best out of the player who moved to Benfica in 2014 for $5.790 million.

He started well in Portugal with eight goals in his first 10 games there and was hailed as one of the brightest young talents in Europe, even compared to the likes of Yaya Toure and Rivaldo.

The talent was there for all to see, the left foot was especially beautiful, he could play anywhere in attack — on the wings, in the middle or as a second striker — and cut an imposing figure.

After two years at Benfica during which he won two Portuguese league titles, he didn’t move to the English Premier League as many had predicted, but was loaned out to Besiktas in Turkey.

There, he won the  Super League and then headed to China in 2018.

There was some disappointment when he chose to head east, but some of the best players in the world were doing the same at the time.

Another league title followed for Talisca in 2019.

Everywhere he has been outside his homeland, Talisca has won league championships which bodes well for Al-Nassr fans.

There has been some criticism in China of a tendency to drift through games especially last season, though 2020 was tough for all, with players confined to their hotel rooms for seven months.

He scored and made goals but rarely took control of games. 

Talisca’s arrival may, however, spell the end of Pity Martinez in Riyadh.

The Argentine made headlines last September when joining the club for around $18 million.

Martinez has since endured something of a difficult first season in Saudi Arabia and while he has shown sporadic flashes of the form that made him the 2018 South American Player of the Year, he did not do so on a consistent basis.

And when injury cut his season short and ruled him out of the AFC Champions League group stage, he wasn’t really missed.

New Al-Nassr coach Mano Menezes came in to replace Alen Horvat and the former Brazilian boss guided the Al-Nassr through a difficult group and into the second round.

There have been regular rumors of Martinez leaving Saudi Arabia for months and with Talisca now in the team and playing a similar role, the route back to South America, or as many think, back to MLS, is now open. 

For Al-Nassr, they have got a player who should be at the peak of his career and still has something to prove.

And, thanks to that welcome video and the fact that he had been talking to Al-Hilal for some time, it means that next season will have even more spice than usual.


With Barcelona out of title race, Messi has future to decide

With Barcelona out of title race, Messi has future to decide
Updated 17 May 2021

With Barcelona out of title race, Messi has future to decide

With Barcelona out of title race, Messi has future to decide
  • Last summer, Messi had said he wanted to leave Barcelona after a campaign that finished without a title

BARCELONA: With Barcelona’s season effectively over, Lionel Messi now has a big decision to make.

Should he finish out his career at the club that helped him become an all-time soccer great?

Or have the team’s struggles to keep winning trophies convinced him that he can find more success in Paris or Manchester?

Barcelona were left without any chance of winning the Spanish league on Sunday, bowing out the title race in demoralizing fashion after letting Celta Vigo overhaul a goal by Messi and rally for a 2-1 victory.

Atletico Madrid beat Osasuna 2-1 and can now only be caught by Real Madrid in next weekend’s final round.

Barcelona have one game left on the calendar, but with nothing to play for except third place in the league, the club’s attention is now fully on the future of its inscrutable star.

Last summer, Messi had said he wanted to leave Barcelona after a campaign that finished without a title and a humiliating 8-2 loss to Bayern Munich in the Champions League. When that exit was denied by the club, Messi said that he would focus on this season and put off any decision until this summer when his contract expires on June 30.

Since then, Joan Laporta has been elected for a second stint as the club’s president. Laporta ran Barcelona when Messi was just blossoming with the team and maintained a good relationship with the player and his family. Even so, Messi has not confirmed a decision on his future.

“I hope not,” coach Ronald Koeman replied when he was asked if he believed Messi had played his final match at Camp Nou — a stadium still without fans because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“He is still the best player in the world and today he showed that it is impossible to play without him,” Koeman said. “He has scored 30 goals this season (in the league) and earned us a lot of points.

“It is up to Messi. For me and the club, we want him to stay with us. Because if Leo is not here, we have doubts about who can score.”

On the same night that Barcelona’s women won the Champions League for the first time by routing Chelsea 4-0, Barcelona’s men’s lineup was again undone by some sloppy defending and failing to converting their scoring chances.

The 33-year-old Messi extended his club-record tally to 672 goals with a header to give Barcelona a first-half lead against Celta. But like too many times in recent weeks, Barcelona’s defense let it down. Celta striker Santi Mina equalized before halftime on a shot that goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen could have done more to try to keep out. Mina then added a second goal in the 88th after defender Clément Lenglet left Barcelona a man down when he earned a second yellow card.

Koeman had succeeded in bringing in some younger players to rejuvenate Barcelona’s squad this season and steering the team to the Copa del Rey title last month.

The former Barcelona defender had also inspired his team to a hot streak in the league that had allowed it to almost erase a double-digit lead by Atletico.

But when Barcelona had the opportunity to move past Atletico and take the lead in late April, it was upset 2-1 by Granada at home. That loss derailed the team. Barcelona drew with Atletico and at Levante before the loss to Celta. If it does not beat the already relegated Eibar in the last round, Barcelona could finish in fourth place.

The late-season collapse of his team that may have put Koeman’s job in danger comes with midfield great Xavi Hernández apparently being groomed to take his place.


Serena sails past teenager Pigato in Parma WTA

Serena sails past teenager Pigato in Parma WTA
Updated 17 May 2021

Serena sails past teenager Pigato in Parma WTA

Serena sails past teenager Pigato in Parma WTA
  • The 39-year-old American had been given a wild card to play in Parma after her premature exit from the Italian Open

PARMA, Italy: Serena Williams brushed aside the challenge of local teenager Lisa Pigato in the opening round of the WTA tournament in Parma on Monday.

Williams, ranked eighth in the world, beat the 572nd-ranked Pigato, making her WTA debut, 6-3, 6-2 in the first meeting between the two players.

The 39-year-old American had been given a wild card to play in Parma after her premature exit from the Italian Open, where she crashed out in the second round in what was her first match in nearly three months since her semi-final defeat in the Australian Open.

Williams, who had already won five Grand Slam tournaments by the time Pigato was born, made a sluggish start as the 17-year-old came up with three glorious winners to break the 23-time Grand Slam champion in the first game.

The American, however, got into gear and dropped just five more points on her serve, firing down six aces and many more that Pigato could barely reach.

Williams, however, was full of praise for her teenage opponent.

“Lisa played really well,” she said in her on-court interview.

“She told me she was only 17. Her future is super-bright. She handled the moment well, so I look forward to cheering for her in the future.”

The Emilia-Romagna Open is a perfect clay warm-up ahead of the French Open, which kicks off in Paris on May 30.

Williams needs one more Grand Slam title to match Australian great Margaret Court’s record of 24 major trophies.


Adidas Runners community expands across GCC

The adidas Runners community on their first outing in Jeddah earlier this month. (Supplied/adidas Runners)
The adidas Runners community on their first outing in Jeddah earlier this month. (Supplied/adidas Runners)
Updated 17 May 2021

Adidas Runners community expands across GCC

The adidas Runners community on their first outing in Jeddah earlier this month. (Supplied/adidas Runners)
  • Coaching teams offer weekly runs, training plans

DUBAI: Adidas Runners is expanding in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region through newly launched communities in Riyadh, Jeddah, and Doha, with the international running crew currently active in 65 cities and boasting a membership of 500,000.

Adidas Runners brings together people from different backgrounds who want to become better runners and improve their performance.

It hosted a friends and family run during a soft launch earlier this month to mark the expansion, with runners taking part in the three cities.

“I am absolutely delighted to be a part of adidas Runners’ community expansion into Riyadh, Jeddah and Doha,” said Lee Ryan, captain of adidas Runners GCC. “With all the challenges over the last 12 months, it’s great to see people taking part in something that is so empowering for the mind and body. We can’t wait to strengthen and grow the community locally and welcome people of all running abilities to join us.”

There has been a positive response since the launch of the new communities, with one social media message saying: “Last time I ran in Jeddah was two years ago, during Ramadan of 2019. I could have never imagined back then that I would see adidas Runners here one day, although I was running with my AR shirt at the time. Now I have goosebumps seeing this. I am still trying to grasp that this is really happening in Jeddah.”

The first adidas Runners community in the GCC was launched in Dubai in 2016. It now has more than 5,000 runners in Dubai and 2,000 registered in Abu Dhabi.

A diverse coaching team has been recruited in each of the three GCC cities, offering weekly social runs, track sessions, weekend-long runs, training plans, social runs, mobility tips and yoga sessions.


Mansoor and WWE stars recall Jeddah’s ‘Greatest Royal Rumble’

Saudi Arabia’s Mansoor with WWE Superstar Sheamus. (WWE)
Saudi Arabia’s Mansoor with WWE Superstar Sheamus. (WWE)
Updated 17 May 2021

Mansoor and WWE stars recall Jeddah’s ‘Greatest Royal Rumble’

Saudi Arabia’s Mansoor with WWE Superstar Sheamus. (WWE)
  • The 50-man fight at King Abdullah International Stadium was the first major WWE event to take place in the Kingdom, where wrestling’s popularity has surged

With Saudi superstar Mansoor signing for WWE’s Raw brand and now facing the organization’s biggest names on a weekly basis, wrestling’s popularity in the Kingdom continues to rise.

On top of that, Mansoor has also been doing his bit to raise the profile of his homeland among WWE’s global audience.

In three clips that proved very popular with social media audiences, Mansoor, who was born and raised in Riyadh, was seen talking three WWE colleagues — Drew McIntyre, Sheamus and Angel Garza — into supporting each of the clubs fighting it out for the Saudi Pro League title: Al-Ittihad, Al-Hilal and Al-Shabab, respectively.

And now Mansoor and some of the WWE Superstars involved in the “Greatest Royal Rumble,” which took place in Saudi Arabia in 2018, have been looking back on that history-making night.

Held at the King Abdullah International Stadium in Jeddah, thousands of fans were in attendance for the first in a series of WWE events to take place in Saudi Arabia.

On April 27, 2018, the 50-man Royal Rumble was eventually won by Braun Strowman, who looks back on that victory as a significant moment in his career.

“From growing up in a small town in North Carolina, where the population is a couple of thousand, to representing my country at the Greatest Royal Rumble in history in Saudi Arabia, where I outlasted 49 other WWE superstars to hold the title over my head, was an amazing feeling,” he said.

“I never even imagined I’d be able to go to Saudi Arabia in my lifetime. I have the coolest job in the world. I’m living a fairy tale and every day it just gets better and better.”

For Mansoor, the event three years ago represented the first step in a hugely exciting journey.

“I remember having an amazing time at the ‘Greatest Royal Rumble’ in Jeddah,” he recalls. “My family were in the crowd and it was the first time I stood in the ring at a WWE pay-per-view event. Looking at the tens of thousands of people was a surreal experience. It was just after my tryout, so I was elated as I’d been chosen among four men to possibly join WWE. Here I am now, all these years later, trying to make my way, make history and cement my legacy.”

Seth Rollins and Sheamus are two of WWE’s most established performers, and they were hugely impressed by the passion of the Saudi spectators in Jeddah.

“I have a lot of great memories from the event, especially the people of Saudi Arabia and the reception we received,” says Rollins. “The WWE Universe in the Middle East is as strong as anywhere in the entire world, so that was incredible.”

Sheamus, the reigning US Champion, echoed those words, saying: “What a great crowd, the fans were electric.”

“Let me tell everybody in Saudi Arabia, I’m looking forward to the day when I can come back and hold the championship up above my head in front of all the great Celtic Warrior fans, and it won’t be too long,” he added.