Jordan’s Paralympic hero Tharwat Al Hajjaj has revealed the inspiration behind her incredible performance in Rio de Janeiro this summer that landed her a silver medal.
The 43-year-old grabbed the headlines when she took second in this summer’s powerlifting event as Jordan recorded its most successful Paralympics to date with four medals.
Speaking to the joc.jo, Tharwat said that as she closed her eyes to try for the final time she saw an image of her own mum cheering her on in her head and that was followed by the television image of Ahmad Abu Ghaush raising his gold medal from the Olympics two weeks earlier.
“There was no way I wasn’t going to lift the weight after that,” she said. “My mum is my champion and Ahmad is a champion for all of Jordan so these images in my mind inspired me to silver.”
Despite her age, Tharwat has declared that she will continue through to the next Paralympics in Tokyo in 2020 when she is determined to go one better and win gold.
But she also remembers a crucial turning point when she was planning for Rio in the early days.
“Every year I see the JOC make interviews with my team mates who have done well and are nominated for the Black Iris Sports Awards,” she said. “I kept saying to myself that that one day I will be there being interviewed after doing well myself.”
She is without doubt a favourite for a 2016 Black Iris Sports Award which would crown a magnificent sports career. But it is a million miles from her upbringing when an unfortunate chain of events saw her lose the use of one leg as a child.
Her sports journey began in 1989 when she was in Yousef Al Karmi Hospital receiving her regular treatment. She recalls it was a Tuesday as sports activities were being held.
“I met someone from the Jordan Paralympic Committee who encouraged me to try sport and to pay a visit to the federation,” she said.
“I did and was surprised to see people in a more difficult situation than me but they were playing sport. Not only playing but they were really good! That was totally new for me, and it started a whole new journey in my life.”
She started by playing wheelchair basketball but developed a passion for field athletics and became a champion in discus, shot put and javelin. In her first international championship in 1999 she won three silver medals in the three disciplines.
She continued to flourish and competed in her first Paralympics in Athens 2004, finishing fourth in a category that was not as clearly defined as more recent Paralympic Games.
After another medal-less Paralympics in Beijing, the Federation’s Jasser Nweiran convinced her to try powerlifting in 2010. But disaster prevented her competing in London 2012 due to a broken leg. It made her more determined than ever though.
“After London I challenged myself to be in Rio,” she said. “I qualified through world classification in third, so I was in good form going there and worked hard for my silver medal.”
She received a hero’s welcome at the airport when she returned with hundreds of family and friends creating an impromptu national celebration.
Looking ahead to Tokyo 2020, she said: “I was 10kg away from the gold in Rio, but with the right training I can reach it there.”
Her message to fellow females with disabilities is clear:
“Disability is as much in the mind as the body and every girl, no matter who she is, has the right to play sport and work hard to achieve her dream.”
She urged all parents who have children with disabilities to take care of them and to treat them as people who can achieve.
She gave warm thanks to HRH Prince Raed Bin Zaid, President of Jordan Paralympic Committee and HRH Prince Feisal Al Hussein, JOC President, for their unstinting support and she also praised the role of her fellow athletes and officials at the federation who she describes as a “family”.