SAMSUN, Turkey (September 17, 2015) - He lost his first-ever fight in his first-ever taekwondo competition – suffering a broken hand into the bargain – but Solaimana Jack Mohammed Mohamod left the 6th World Para-Taekwondo Championships in Samsun, Turkey, with a smile on his face.
The Comoros native was not just the first athlete ever to represent the Indian ocean island nation that lies off the east coast of Africa in a global taekwondo competition; it was also his first time ever to travel abroad.
“I had a great experience - it is like I am in paradise!” said the smiling, soft-spoken 33-year-old, his left hand dangling in a sling and secured with a cast. “It was really a big deal taking a plane to go so far.”
What were his impressions – of seeing another country, of taking a train, of meeting so many new people?
“I have met a lot of people, it is changing my thinking, I am going to see things in a different way,” he said. “I had never left the country, now I have seen new things, seen new buildings, met new people who have been very, very kind.”
The competition mats, however proved less gentle: In the second round of his first match, Mohamod, a first-dan with eight years of taekwondo experience under his black belt, suffered a heavy kick to the little finger bone of his disabled left hand.
“I got hit on the left hand and felt it break,” he said. “It destabilized me for the rest of the fight, but I wanted to continue.” He did, indeed, complete the fight, before visiting the doctor’s office. So: A hard lesson for a first competition? Maybe not: “I liked the fight very much,” he said.
The competition set-up and organization was an eye-opener. “I was very impressed about how it went on and now I know exactly what I have to do to prepare myself for the next competition,” he said. “I am going to work hard on improving my techniques.”
And he is thinking beyond kyorugi; during classification, he was approved for participation in the poomsae division. “I really like poomsae,” he said. “It shows all the basic and advanced techniques and when one can do them right, it shows the beauty of the art.”
Mohamod – nicknamed “Jackie” after Hong Kong superstar Jackie Chan – will be taking it all back home with him. “It was a great experience to come to Turkey to discover what para-taekwondo is and now I am motivated to tell other people to do para-taekwondo,” he said.
He was born disabled, unable to lift his left arm beyond chest height due, and is a professional leather worker who repairs shoes and bags. “I like sports, but especially taekwondo,” he said. “As I have a hand disability, I thought the (foot focused) taekwondo would be a good sport and would give me a chance to participate in competition one day as a para-athlete.”
Now, having achieved that ambition, he has a key message to deliver to his fellow islanders.
“When one has a disability, that does not mean the end of the world,” he said.“We must be able to show that we can do sport, and para-taekwondo is one of those that gives us the opportunity to practice a sport at the world level.”
Indeed, the lack of necessity for expensive courts or equipment, making it a truly democratic sport, is one of the key selling points of taekwondo. And it might – just might - offer the Comoros a chance for sporting glory in Tokyo 2020.
“I am thinking about it, I have been told about it, and in five years if I train hard, I may have a chance to compete,” Mohamod said. “The Comoros have never won an Olympic medal.”
That, however, will take some doing. Mohamod’s Coach Houssen Salim Said Ali admits that things are really just getting started. “We are the first taekwondo players from the Comoros to participate in a world event, so we are starting now, we are initiating it now.”
Currently, the archipelago nation needs equipment for its clubs. “That is something that is on my mind,” said Ali. “That is something we are planning to request from the WTF Development Fund.”
Ali is the Comoros’ national technical director but will be running in upcoming elections to be the next president of the federation. If elected, he plans to organize a series of regional events, starting with a poomsae competition, in order to build up good relation with other countries among the Indian Ocean island territories.
But that all lies the future. For now, Mohamod’s entry to the para-competition arena in Samsun means that the Union of Comoros has - at last - fully joined the global taekwondo family.