Naser Al Ketbi had struggled with his weight for as long as he could remember.
Aged 19, he weighed 121 kilograms, more than 30kg heavier than he should be for his height and the same as an Arabian oryx.
Growing up as an overweight child and teenager was difficult, said the 23-year-old, who is studying business management at Abu Dhabi University
“My friends used to make fun of me when I played football because I couldn’t run fast or move easily and I had problems with breathing and lack of stamina.
“I ate a lot of pizza, burgers and fast food every day, and especially before going to bed.
“I was just sitting around and eating all the time. When I ate I just couldn’t stop.”
His family urged him to cut out the fattening food throughout his childhood, "but I was a kid and I never listened", Mr Al Ketbi said.
Then and now
Move forward to the present, and Mr Al Ketbi has completely transformed his life, lost 34kg and is now an established padel player.
The energetic sport is similar to tennis, but played in pairs, with a hard racket and in smaller courts with walls made of glass.
It is heavily influenced by squash, and players can use the walls to bounce the ball back to them.
The young Emirati's journey has not been plain sailing, and it all started in 2016 when Mr Al Ketbi turned 18.
"When I started National Service, I had to be away from home for three months, and there you are deprived of fast food, so I lost 20kg," he said.
“But when I returned, I started eating again and gained it all back.”
Persistence pays off
This false start gave him a sense of how good it felt to lose weight, and led to what Mr Al Ketbi calls "an awakening moment" in the shower, when he resolved to cut back on the fatty foods and turn his life around.
“I felt fed up with overeating and my unhealthy lifestyle," he said.
"I started cycling from my home to my soccer training at the Abu Dhabi Country Club and back, it was about five kilometres distance each way.
“I saw a psychologist too and he told me what to do [mentally] to shift towards a healthier lifestyle."
The weight started to fall off, and he lost 34kg over seven months, even taking up crossfit for a few months, until he re-discovered his true passion, padel, in June.
“The first time I played padel was in 2014, but my family pushed me to do it at the time and I didn't like it. I was too fat so it was hard to move fast, and after some time I stopped playing," he said.
“It was Ramadan in 2017 and the club was hosting a championship. I participated and reached the semi-final, but then I lost to two ladies – one of them was the coach’s wife.
“So then I decided to start training seriously, and I made padel an essential part of my life.”
His passion paid dividends, and this year Mr Al Ketbi took first place in the Abu Dhabi Padel Tournament, alongside his partner and friend Mubarak Al Ketbi, who is a distant cousin.
Finding a mentor
Looking back at his fitness journey, Mr Al Ketbi said it was quite challenging to keep going, but he was lucky to have a role model to mentor him along the way.
Hani Asaad, 50, plays padel professionally and has known Mr Al Ketbi since he was a child.
The educational consultant from Egypt managed to lose 10kg over the years, so he understood how hard it can be to stick to a diet plan.
"Hani used to tell me how he managed to lose weight, and he kept talking me into shifting my lifestyle," said Mr Al Ketbi who calls Mr Asaad his guardian.
“The transformation wasn’t easy, I felt really depressed in the beginning – there were many low points when I felt very tired physically but it was a challenge for me and I stuck to it.
“My friends only saw me after I lost all the weight, they were surprised and asked me how I did it.
“I always advise them to just stick to it and not give up.”