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Last Updated: Monday, 31 January 2005, 12:13 GMT
Overcoming marathon obstacles
By Suhail Haleem
BBC Urdu service

Sarmad Tariq in the Lahore marathon
Sarmad Tariq - this was his first race as a wheelchair athlete
When the going gets tough, the tough get going.

And if you are paralysed from the shoulders downward and competing in a full marathon, it's difficult to imagine things getting any tougher.

Ordinarily, it would also be difficult to imagine why anybody with only little strength in their arms and none in the legs would want to put themselves through the gruelling ordeal.

But 29-year-old Pakistani, Sarmad Tariq, is no ordinary man.

Although he is a quadriplegic, he seeks out challenges most able-bodied people would shy away from - like completing a full marathon in a wheelchair with only himself to compete against. And racing against time.

He wants to show that you can be disabled and still have a life.

Lahore marathon

Sarmad was left a cripple with no sensation in his arms or legs in a diving accident when he was 15.

On Sunday, strapped firmly to his wheelchair, he completed the full 26-mile course of the Lahore marathon, the first-ever international marathon in Pakistan.

Lahore marathon
This was Pakistan's first international marathon

"I had to complete the race in less than three-and-a-half hours. That is the benchmark to qualify for the high-profile London marathon."

But it took him twice as long.

"I was a little over-ambitious, I think. But it is still a big achievement."

However, he did not give up.

"By the time I finished the first lap, I was already over the target time, but I decided to finish the race, no matter what. The magnificent response from the crowd kept me going."

The effort left him with sore biceps, a legion of admirers, but also an uncertain future over his dream to race in the London marathon.

"For years now, I have wanted to represent Pakistan as a wheelchair athlete at the great international races."

But for want of a qualifying time, he wasn't allowed to run.

The London Marathon, however, will still consider his request to race because "they don't get any entries from this part of the world".

Class of his own

This was Sarmad's first race as a wheelchair athlete.

There wasn't even a category for him to compete in when the race was announced. That, however, did not deter him.

Stem cell research may one day help me walk, but I won't spend my life waiting for that to happen
Sarmad Tariq

"Every time I tried to enter the big international races, I was turned down because I didn't have a qualifying time.

"When the Lahore marathon was announced, I immediately contacted Hugh Jones of the Association of International Marathons (AIMS) for permission to compete, and after an interview I was given the go-ahead.

"But I would have to race against myself."

Racing in a wheelchair can be an expensive business.

"The wheelchair alone cost $8,000 to import, but it was sponsored by the Standard Chartered Bank."

Thanks to Sarmad's never-say-die attitude, there has been no dearth of sponsors.

No triceps

"I always loved outdoor sports. But when I dived into a shallow canal, I broke two vertebrae in my neck. That left me paralysed and confined to a hospital bed for several years.

Sarmad Tariq in the Lahore marathon
Sarmad hopes research will help him walk one day

"Highly complicated and expensive surgery in Pakistan, and then specialised treatment in England, restored strength to my shoulders and biceps.

"I have biceps but no triceps. What that means is that I can pull but not push.

"I can't use my fingers but can turn them into fists. So, I wear leather gloves to push the wheelchair forward."

Sarmad's condition means he constantly needs the help of two people to get him into and out of his wheelchair or car.

He went into the race with less than six months of training, doing weights and practicing with his wheelchair.

"I will keep trying till I come out on top."

Other challenges

This wasn't the first time he was challenging the odds.

Four years after his accident, Sarmad resumed his studies, succeeding in acquiring a Masters degree in Business Administration.

From one challenge to another, he thought in 2002 of driving non-stop from the Khyber Pass in the Hindu Kush mountains to the port city of Karachi, a distance of 1,850 km (1,155 miles).

He completed the drive in 33 hours in his custom-built car which had all the controls on the steering wheel.

So, why does he put himself through all this?

"Life is too short, and I want to enjoy it. Stem cell research may one day help me walk, but I won't spend my life waiting for that to happen."

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