“My hands have been bleeding. I competed with that. You see my skin just tears up because of the kind of weight I lift,” said Muhammad Nooh Dastgir Butt, as he reflected on his record-breaking performance at the 2022 Commonwealth Games and then at the Islamic Solidarity Games last month.
Nooh is Pakistan’s hope for the 2024 Olympics as well and his journey has been inspiring. Every interaction with him over the years since 2015 has only revealed him to be a boy with innocence, humility and clarity of goal: a rare combination.
The 24-year-old from Gujranwala created the Commonwealth Games record in snatch with 173kgs, then in clean and jerk with a massive 232kgs and an overall 405kgs at the +109kg event on August 3 in Birmingham, despite not having his personal coach, his father and medal-winning former international weightlifter Ghulam Dastgir by his side.
He then straight went on to compete at the Islamic Solidarity Games in Konya without the required rest or basic facilities like that of a physiotherapist and support staff, where he was competing among the top weightlifter in the world.
“I have an issue with my skin,” Nooh told The Express Tribune. “If I don’t get enough rest and time to recuperate, then my skin begins to react badly. It just tears away and there should be a rest, mostly 15 to 20 days, because we have to lift so much weight that my body and specially the skin in my hands need time to heal. Like in this case, I have been just travelling and for international weightlifters this is not how it works.”
The irony though is that even though Nooh is ready to play for Pakistan despite his bleeding hands and pain, it is the country that is not taking the careers and health of its heroes and history-making athlete seriously. Nooh went into the competition in Konya without the coach, physiotherapist and with fever and flu, just the day before his event, where he finished fourth with the total weight lifted being 378kgs.
Nooh and his family, especially his father has been his biggest strength and he happened to be his coach as well.
Ghulam has provided Nooh and his younger son Hanzala Dastgir with everything that is needed for their training at home, even in the worst of times. For example in the last two years, in which Nooh took a step back to recover from his injury that had forced him to let go of his dream to compete at the Tokyo Olympics, Ghulam was by his side.
The constant care Nooh’s family provided to him made sure he came out a champion, despite the lack of professionalism and attention as well as investment afforded to him by the government or the sponsors.
The hurdles seem to only pile up at the international events too, as Nooh puts it: “It becomes very difficult to be competing without the personal coach. Like my father, he is not just my coach he also helps as a therapist and physiotherapist. In the absence of the professional support staff, the coaches that are generally sent with us don’t have much know-how.
“Sometimes we need to take care of them, instead of them taking care of us, which becomes a nuisance. We like to compete without a coach altogether, compared to being with one who isn’t our personal coach. A coach’s duty also includes getting us the weights and other things. We’ve always performed better without those coaches, and Commonwealth Games was one such event,” said Nooh.
Meanwhile at the Islamic Solidarity Games, Nooh believes that him missing out on the bronze medal was unfortunate, but he was not surprised given the food in Konya was not up to the mark, the rooms did not have fans and he was struggling with health. But he has had a great time and interactions with fellow competitors.
“The Turkmenistan weightlifter came to me and thanked me. Like thank you for letting me win. I can observe that the weightlifters in Konya were very aware of my performance at the Commonwealth Games, they were a bit wary as to how I'll come into the event. I thought they were a bit scared too.
“But well, I was not able perform because of the challenges I had been facing. But I told the Turkmenistan weightlifter that I’ll get back to him in the next competition, and the next competition in the Asian Games next year,” said Nooh.
Good time with India’s Gurdeep
At the Commonwealth Games he found himself to be in great company and he takes great pride in forging friendships in the weightlifting community.
“I have good friends with the weightlifters from India, in fact all of them are my friends, we all stay in touch, we talk about tour training, how are the camps and share insights especially Gurdeep who competes in my weight category, he got the bronze medal in the Commonwealth Games. So, him and I have been very good friends, we’ve been friends since even before we started to compete against each other, it has been eight to nine years of our friendship now, I have a very good bond with him. We always meet each other with lots of love, when we in the event we are obviously competitors, but outside of the platform we are very good friends outside of that field, we eat same kind of food, we speak the same language, so there is a lot of attachment there, we keep talking to each other,” shared Nooh.
Need for better support staff
Nooh believes that a quality support staff that has professional training will be the key for the future as he is training for the Olympics 2024 qualification that can be attained through Asian Games scheduled to take place next year.
With his remarkable feat, Nooh is among the elite athletes in the world and his growth has been phenomenal despite the two years of injury.
“My father has been arranging everything for us, then hard work is crucial, nothing can substitute that, to be competing international level among the elites, with the Asian and world champions, so without hard work nothing can happen, then we need to change our ways.
“We need a physio, masseuse who can help us recover after the training and competitions, we need someone to help us prevent the injuries too, without those professionals we really can’t compete at the top level, like if we get injured that just to recover takes a year or two just to get back, like two years of my life have been wasted, but I think if we get these small things I feel we can really make a difference, I can get better at competitions and win medals at bigger competitions even if we only train in Pakistan, like where I train, but we need these things to excel,” said Nooh.
He also appreciated the Pakistan Sports Board for taking care of him and the athletes and giving full support during the competition at the Commonwealth Games. He explained the Director General of the Board has been kind and supportive to him.
“They have really been supporting me whole-heartedly, they have assured me that they will arrange what I need for the competitions ahead, like I want to compete at the Paris Olympics and he has told me that I can get everything at home too, where I train all year round,” said Nooh.
Next stop: Asian Games
Nooh will be next seen in action at the Asian games that were scheduled to take place this year but have been postponed till 023 due to Covid-19 pandemic resurgence in China.
“My next event will be the Asian Games is the major event, but since they are happening next year, if I win a medal at the Asian Games, I will automatically qualify for the Paris Olympics so that is what I will be focusing on, I have eight to nine months to recover and improve,” said Nooh.
Update the Policy
The precocious youngster was also announced to get the Pride of Performance award by the government and also the cash prize for winning the medal at the commonwealth Games, however Nooh feels that there should be an update on the cash prize money for all the athletes.
“These cash prizes were announced for the medal winners back in 2006, when Shujauddin Malik won the Commonwealth Games medal for Pakistan, this policy has been going from then, the Rs 5m (50 lakh), but look at the inflation and the rupee to Us dollar value, in this 14 to 15 years now you can’t even buy a decent car in this money, the government should take this into account, but otherwise I am very happy that they announced this prize for immediately after the competition, this gives a lot of motivation and encouragement to the athletes to win more medals for Pakistan,” explained Nooh.
Self-care is key
While weightlifting seems to be a sport for tough men and women, especially when going at the international circuit with so many factors working against the Pakistani athletes, Nooh feels that self-care and maintaining good mental health is a task especially before the event and during the training.
“Mental health is the most important thing, and the main question is how to keep the athletes away from stress and those trivial worldly things so that there is no distraction through these problems, if one is mentally disturbed then one can’t do anything, one can’t train, if one doesn’t train properly one can get injured and so on and so forth, so being in good mental health is necessary,” said Nooh.
Meanwhile when it comes to dealing with the high-pressure situations as an elite athlete during the competitions and training Nooh relies on prayer and finds inspiration trough music too.
“I talk to Allah, I ask for his help really, I seek Allah’s help, regarding any issue I face, then I do listen to a lot of music, I have only one close friend when it comes to sharing stuff, so I get help from them, so a good friend helps in treading through life,” said Nooh.
When asked what songs are most played by him and that help him stay motivated and that may help others to uplift their spirits as well, Nooh replied, “Music helps me to stay focus during the training, and otherwise I get motivated through that. So, I have been listening to two songs that I listen to a lot. One of them I have been listening to for two to three years and then the second one for five-six years.
“So, the first is this song from Rocky Balboa movie, ‘No easy Way Out” I listen to it a lot, the second song is from a Punjabi singer Sidhu Moosewala, I listen to almost all of his songs, he was murdered this year. My favourite of his songs is ‘295’, I listen to it a lot, because in that song he is talking about the truth, about the reality, all of his songs are about the truth and realities of life, how people try to bring us down, put us down, his songs have been very popular, all the young generation, in South Asia, everyone has heard of his. When he was murdered you must have seen how everyone felt, everyone was raising the voice for him, he is number one for me.”
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