“All I want for the next year is to make Pakistan proud again the way I did in 2022. I am working and well on my way to recover from my surgeries,” said Pakistan’s history-making athlete and the most successful sportsperson of the year, javelin thrower Arshad Nadeem.
Arshad spent nine weeks in the top 10 of the World Athletics javelin throw rankings, with six weeks on the sixth place.
The 25-year-old became an icon in a country that is obsessed with cricket, a story that is worthy of textbooks. The humble boy from Mian-Chunnu, Khanewal, marked Pakistan’s arrival in the world of athletics with a string of firsts. He reached the World Athletics Champions final in Eugene, Oregon, making his comeback after the Tokyo Olympics in which he was the first Pakistani to reach the final and finish fifth.
Unlike elite athletes, Arshad had trained in Lahore with bare minimum facilities alongside coach Salman Iqbal Butt, while he got two months of training in south Africa with coach Terseus Liebenberg, that he felt had been helpful.
With an 86.16m throw in Oregon, Arshad was just starting to warm-up and his goal had been to achieve the feat of winning the Commonwealth Games gold medal, despite the year he had spent with knee and elbow injuries.
Arshad’s ambition proved to be logic-defying at times, but he won the gold in Birmingham and set the new record in the games with a 90.18m throw, even leaving behind the world number one, Grenada’s Anderson Peters.
Arshad became the first south-Asian too to break the 90m barrier, despite a heavily bandaged arm.
Arshad had made another record at the Islamic Solidarity Games in Konya and belted out his second-best throw of his career with 88.55m, as he wrapped up his international duties for the year. He then went for surgery on his elbow that he had picked up before the Olympics and the knee injury that came during the training.
“This year has been rewarding, but my focus is to recover so that I can achieve more laurels for my country,” Arshad told The Express Tribune. “The treatment of my injuries had been my sole focus after the events. I got busy with my family too, because I had not been able to give them enough time.
“I am recovering well from both surgeries. I got back home on December 12 and right now I have my heart set on my family and the recovery.
“Also, to keep myself physically in shape I am doing light exercises. I can’t do anything with equipment at all.”
Arshad left for England on December 1, where he received treatment from Dr Ali Bajwa who had been his physician since earlier this year.
Arshad had waited to get his surgeries for more than a year. In fact his vision was to make history at the World Championships, the Commonwealth Games and the Islamic Solidarity Games, and he was hoping to achieve his dream before going under the knife.
His gamble paid off, along with his persistence and patience with the pain.
For most athletes a knee injury is scary, and the long-standing elbow injury did not make competing easier for Arshad, but the crucial phase is the recovery to make a successful comeback later.
“I was in pain, but the surgeries helped. I am recovering, I was walking the very next day after my surgery, so I felt good. I know I am mentally strong, I have what it takes to fully recover and I am hopeful. At the end of the day it is about being dedicated and disciplined, I am going through my physiotherapy here at home.
“My therapist stays in touch with Dr Bajwa. I want to get fit and there are some big competitions in 2023, like the World Championships, Asian Games and then Diamond Leagues too.”
He added that he trusts his coaches as once he starts training again, they will support him.
Meanwhile, with some downtime with the family and treatment, Arshad looked back at other sporting events too, like the cricket World Cup where Pakistan reached the final but lost against England.
“I did not watch much of the football World Cup or the cricket World Cup, but I caught the final between Pakistan and England. I can tell that the team can improve from the mistakes that they made.
“I really felt for what Shaheen Shah Afridi was going through. He too had been recovering from a knee injury. He played such a crucial role and in the final he was at the edge of winning it all, but he could not, and I felt his pain. I thought it is the same that happened with me when I was competing in the Tokyo Olympics. I made mistakes, I was in pain too, and when one looks back we can see how things could have been different,” said Arshad.
Besides his own successes affecting him directly, he felt that the National Athletics Championship in November was a very refreshing event as he saw more participation in the javelin throw event.
“I saw many new players, and not just the athletes who have competed with me, but the senior ones too kept saying that there is more enthusiasm and participation in javelin throw now. I felt good, I felt that is a change for good,” said Arshad as he went back to his family, where he feels that his toddler son is happy to spend more time with both of his parents, while his daughter can finally understand that her father plays a sport and corrects her younger brother by telling him that Arshad is an elite athlete and not just a person with just another job.