Wednesday, March 5, 2014

BATTLING ‘BEAST’

BAHRAINI Ahmed Jaffar’s battle with Parkinson’s disease has inspired him to live life to the full and take on a number of challenges across the world. His next adventure is a horse ride through Mongolia, to highlight his cause and inspire others afflicted with the condition not to lose hope.

Parkinson’s disease is a degenerative disorder of the central nervous system. Its symptoms are movement-related and include shaking, rigidity, slowness of movement and difficulty with walking. Later, thinking and behavioural problems may arise, with dementia commonly occurring in the advanced stages.

However, Mr Jaffar, 58, from Muharraq, says that with each of his adventures, he wins another battle over the disease.

“I’m challenging my condition and my aim is to accomplish my dreams while I can. I want to help other people and show them that nothing is impossible; if you work hard you can achieve your goals. I want people to know that you don’t have to surrender to Parkinson’s.”

And surrender is a word Mr Jaffar clearly does not recognise. Shortly after being diagnosed, he sought help from specialists across the globe to find out more about the affliction that was set to change his life.

After being told by one specialist that exercise was proven to help with the symptoms of his condition, he set himself a target and decided to fight back against the disease.

“One of my first adventures was a trip to the South Pole and when I completed that, I was inspired to do another trip, which is how I ended up climbing to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.

“It was difficult but I did it, and because of my stubborn nature I even refused help while climbing, which led to me being giving the nickname ‘the beast of Bahrain’.

His latest adventure will see him riding across Western Mongolia’s 2,456sq/m Altai Tavan Bogd National Park in the Altai-Sayan eco-region, near the Chinese border.

Mr Jaffar says that within three days of returning from conquering Kilimanjaro, a fellow adventurer from the trip called him and asked him to tackle Mongolia with him next. “The disease didn’t stop me from fulfilling my dreams of travelling to Antarctica and reaching the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro and it won’t stop my upcoming trip to Mongolia. All that was achieved and will be achieved is done with determination, hours of daily exercise and the love of life,” he said.

This July, he will explore the park on a 15-day, 100-mile Mongolia Trek, an adventure that will see 16 guests, a local guide and a cook cover eight to 10 miles per day by foot and horseback, traversing around the Five Holy Peaks of Altai. Digs are sturdy mountain tents, as well as the ger camps of nomadic Kazakhs.

A ger is a traditional felt tent inhabited by Mongolian nomadic herders and each is heated by a wood stove and has two wood-framed beds.

Horse riding is a past passion for the MegaMart director, who walked away from the hobby 18 years ago. When he found out about the Mongolia trek, it reignited his desire and he has since been on a refresher horse riding course at Muharraq Horse Riding School.

“I need to lose 10kg in the next five months,” he explained. “I understand Bahraini horses are bigger than the ones in Mongolia so I have to drop some weight to be in top condition, it’s going to be a hard ride across a big distance and I have to keep up with everyone else.”

Hard rides are something he knows a lot about. One of the reasons he walked away from the equestrian scene was because of an accident, which caused several injuries. However, in true Bahraini spirit he got back on the horse an hour later.

“It’s important for both horse and rider to get back on after a fall. I got back on the horse then and I’m getting back on the horse now … both figuratively and literally.

Another inspiration for Mr Jaffar is his family and friends, although not for obvious reasons with the latter. While his family, wife Najat, son Hashim, 32, daughters Aalla, 28, and Amal, 25, are very supportive of his goals, he says his close friends are worried about the toll his trips place on his body.

“I know their fears and doubts come from a good place, but I have proven I can do anything I set my mind to, without help from anyone. In fact, I get a sense of satisfaction proving my friends wrong.”

Besides the obligatory supplies, Mr Jaffar plans to take his ‘most essential’ bit of kit with him to Mongolia.

“I have a flag with my name and the Bahrain flag on it and at the bottom it reads ‘Parkinson’s can’t stop me’. It’s a ritual that I put it up whenever I reach my goal and I look forward to waving it high and proud in Mongolia.”

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