ABU DHABI // While others might still be rubbing sleep from their eyes following pre-dawn prayers and suhoor, Adil Khalid is far from contemplating rest this Ramadan. "I'm thinking about the gold," said the Emirati Olympic sailor. "About standing at the podium." By 5am, he is already crunching, lifting, cycling and pressing his way through an inventory of exercise machines. He will shower and nap before returning for a second afternoon workout, fasting all the while.
"I have my target and I want to show my country results," he said. "I need to work." There is much at stake for the 21-year-old. The 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou, China, begin in less than three months, and Mr Khalid is expected to compete on behalf of the UAE. Slacking off during the weeks of the holy month could destroy his chances of becoming a world champion. "If I relax and just start eating, I will get a big stomach. I can't just have huge meals all month and sleep and eat until the end of the month," he said, towelling off at the shoulder press. "If you do that, then when you go sailing after, you'll feel like an old guy, and when you sail against the best in the world, you're not fit enough. You're lost."
Juggling his faith with his training is vital to the professional athlete's spiritual and physical well-being. For a dedicated portion of like-minded Muslim sportsmen and women in the Emirates, that means making no concessions during Ramadan, even if in Mr Khalid's case it means denying himself hydration until sunset, despite his intense twice-daily routines. "It's my religion," said Mr Khalid, who was the UAE's first sailor to qualify at the Olympics, travelling to Beijing in 2008.
The sight of a fellow gym rat walking by guzzling water from a bottle did nothing to tempt him, he said. "I feel OK," he said. "It's normal. I fasted when I trained in Europe. Maybe the first, second, third days, you feel tired. After, it's easy." Mr Khalid's energy levels do dip during Ramadan, forcing him to reduce the weights accordingly, for his leg presses to 150kg from his normal 220kg, and his shoulder presses from a maximum of 80kg down to 30.5kg. Even so, his work ethic has impressed his Dubai gym trainer, Colin Wilson.
"I have the utmost respect for him," Mr Wilson said. "From a religion point of view, this is a major sacrifice he's making during his training sessions, and it just explodes the myth that during Ramadan you relax, and you've got to become sedentary and lazy. There's no excuse now." Mr Khalid said he shed 3kg in the first days of Ramadan. A strict running regimen helped Ayat Abed Isaid to melt off more than 29kg over six years, although these days she is more interested in racing times than weight loss. Easing off during Ramadan was out of the question for the 23-year-old Jordanian, a devout Muslim eyeing three forthcoming heats - the first being November's Abu Dhabi Striders Half Marathon.
"I wake up at 4am, then after I pray I put on my gym clothes and go running at 5am around the Eid mosque at Airport Road," she said. Ms Abed Isaid prefers the solitude of early-morning darkness to an air-conditioned gym and will run for an hour and a half, sprinting for 15 minutes towards the end. "In this weather, you do feel very hot and fatigued, but if I stop running for one month, I'm going to lose this ability."
Rather than break her fast, she dabs water around her lips to cool off when her mouth is dry. She has a light iftar with plenty of fruits before running again in the evening, and drinks 2 litres of water before sleep. "My priority is my religion, and then comes running," said Ms Abed Isaid, who weighed 90kg in Al Ain before she began running as a student in Canada. "If I had to choose, I'll fast and stop running. But when I think about it, I don't want to go back to who I was before. I was scared of that person. I love my religion, I'm loving this lifestyle, and I love this person. I'm healthy and confident."