Nooh’s story of blood, sweat and gold

“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.”

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