Abdul Buhari - observing faith and success on the international stage

From first throwing a tennis ball at his local church scout group to representing his country at the Olympics, Abdul Buhari has had a sensational journey through the sport.

Despite retiring in 2014, Abdul remains an important player in athletics in England as co-founder of the Lloyd Cowan Bursary, co-founder of the Athletes Alumni supporting athletes to transition from competition as well as holding the position of Ambassador for the recently launched Personal Best Foundation. We recently caught up with Abdul to learn more about his involvement in athletics, and how his faith of Islam has defined his life and supported him on his journey.

Getting started in the sport

Like many other children around the country, Abdul first began his athletics journey away from the track and at his local youth group.

"I was introduced to athletics by accident. I lived in South London and my parents would take me to the local church hall scouts group to keep me away from trouble. I did indoor sprints, hurdles and jumps and when we were asked to throw a tennis ball I really shone and was better than the older kids. My scout master picked up on this and took me down to Tooting Bec track.

"I loved that athletics wasn’t a team sport, and I could control the variables. I was constantly being pushed to be better. I liked the feeling of winning but also if something didn’t go well, I knew I needed to try harder to see results. Athletics taught me about tenacity, commitment, drive, and ambition.

"I was inspired watching the local athletes competing on TV at the big competitions. It makes a difference to a young child and gave me the drive to continue."

Combining faith, dedication, and hard work to succeed in his sport

"When I was younger, faith didn’t play a part in my athletics, I just wanted to work hard. When I was more mature, I needed to understand why things did and did not go well. If I did not throw well, I knew that I needed to go away and improve an aspect of my life and then my time to throw well again would come.

"When you are at the highest peak you forget, then when you are at the very bottom you search for God and positive reinforcement that things will get better.

"If we take a step back and appreciate what we have, be grateful, then we will be able to see more clearly our next steps whether in your athletics career or personal life."

Observing the month of Ramadan as an athlete

Being an elite athlete and observing Ramadan may be perceived as a challenge, but for Abdul he used this as a period for self-improvement and to re-focus.

“I really enjoy the month of Ramadan as it enables me to focus the mind a lot more. When I was an athlete, I would train either very early in the morning or in the evening. As a thrower it was easier to adapt my training than it would be for an endurance runner. I would really focus on my nutrition and fuelling my body with that it needs. I would eat more protein and get my carbs from vegetables, aiming to drink 2-3 litres of water once the fast is open.

“When I was competing at the World and Olympic level, I was training at Loughborough University and had access to fantastic facilities which were open early and late. I had help from nutritionists, coaches and support staff who would guide me with my diet and make sure I could maintain my weight during Ramadan which is crucial as a thrower. Discus is a power-based event, and you are applying force through a weighted implement so the power to weight ratio is very important for body mechanics.

"During Ramadan, it is only 29-30 days of fasting and you must remember it is just an adaptation period. Throughout the season, athletes get injured all the time and they adapt for a period of time to what they can and can’t do. I always came out of Ramadan a lot leaner, faster and in most cases stronger."

How can clubs better support athletes who are observing Ramadan?

We are proud to be part of a sport which is inclusive and welcoming to people of all backgrounds, ethnicities, and abilities. To help coaches to best support their athletes, we asked Abdul if he has any advice for coaches to help their athletes to continue training or competing during Ramadan.

"Having an awareness is the most important thing. Appreciate that your athletes may or may not be fasting. As athletes we are all very in-tune with our bodies and our limits so be open to listening about what the athlete can and cannot do. If athletes are new to fasting, they may be grumpy or feel fatigued, so you may need to be more flexible.

"If possible and you are coaching around the opening of fast, it may be challenging but providing opportunities for hydration and nutrition at the facility would be great. Many professional football games and leagues are implementing a pause for hydration or some fruit which has been positive to see.

“Clubs can prepare by making sure their water filters or taps work for athletes to have access to drinking water, as well as making sure the sinks in the toilets are clean and functioning as Muslim athletes will need to wash their hands. Simple things like this can often be taken for granted but can be incredibly helpful to a Muslim athlete observing Ramadan."

Photo by Mark Shearman