INTERVIEW: Al Balooshi motivated to make his return

Jay Asser 08:30 02/09/2016
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On track: Mohammed Al Balooshi at the third stage of the 2016 Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge.

More than four months after suffering a crash that resulted in a fractured knee and concussion, Mohammed Al Balooshi is back to full strength and eager to once again compete on his bike.

The injuries occurred at April’s Sealine Cross-Country Rally, which was the second round of the 2016 FIM Cross Country Rallies World Championship. Now, the Emirati is eyeing the Emirates Desert Championship, which begins on October 14, to stage his comeback and remind the motocross world he’s far from finished and still has plenty left in the tank.

Sport360 caught up with the 36-year-old to talk about his journey back from the crash, how the recovery period was a blessing in disguise and his motivation for the coming season.

Where are you at right now in your recovery from the injuries?

Yeah, good. I have five more weeks until the season opener, so I’m quite back to normal. It has been really tough, especially the first few weeks, but I now feel like it’s back to normal. I have some nagging pains, but it’s okay, it’s part of the sport.

When you suffered the crash in April, how concerned were you about your riding career?

I was more concerned with my head, not so much about my knee because I knew my knee I could repair. I’ve broken my bones all over my body many times so I knew this was going to be okay. But I banged my head quite hard and it was really tough the first three, four weeks because I kept having the spins. The room would spin whenever I woke up and laid down. This was worrying me a bit after the CAT scan and MRI, but luckily, it was just a bad, bad crash and time would heal it and it did.

Prior to that crash, I had a couple of concussions, so I was a bit worried about that part. But there were no thoughts of ‘should I continue?’ There was none of that. I just wanted to make sure my head was okay and getting back to my recovery.

These things only make you stronger. You realise health is very important so you work even harder so you are always in shape and fit, preventing these things from happening. Or if it happens, the damage should be less because you learn from each crash.

With all the research and findings on concussions, how worried are you about head injuries going forward?

Honestly, I’m quite a positive guy. I don’t let it get to me, so I’m not really concerned. I’ve changed my helmet brand, even though the helmet I was wearing did the job, but I wanted to go one notch better. I did a lot of research. For me, I really don’t let it get to me. The more you think about it, the more it will hurt your performance.

For me, this is what I’m passionate about and what I do for a living. I’m still young and I feel good on the bike. This is what matters. Injuries are part of it.

I’ve been working really hard. During the down time, I wasn’t allowed to do a lot of exercises or movement, so I didn’t do anything for eight to nine weeks. Because of that, I gained a lot of weight. When you don’t move a lot, every day is a ‘cheat day’ basically.

Since I’m back – today marks 90 days since I’ve been practicing – I feel really good and I’ve lost all my extra weight I gained during those eight-and-a-half weeks. I’m back to my racing weight.

What was the most challenging aspect of the comeback?

The hardest part is the hard work. I knew I could do it all over again because I’ve done it in the past many, many times, but just the thought of it is not easy. Day in and day out, you do the same stuff and have to get good at cycling, running and weights. It’s starting from zero. I was like 6kg heavier and my stamina wasn’t there, so I had to take it a day at a time. The good thing is I always record what I do, like my heart rate and how many kilometres I’ve done. I can see I’m going in the right direction.

What are your expectations for this season?

I always train to perform well and to win, honestly. I don’t train to go do 80 per cent. I train to do 100 per cent and compete for the title. Two years in a row in the Emirates Desert Championship I’ve been coming short, finishing second. This year I would like to win it.

This injury really motivated me because a lot of people wrote me off. I kind of like it. The thing is our community is very small, everybody talks and you hear what they say.

I knew a lot of riders said ‘that’s it, this season is done for Balooshi’ and this kept me going. Twice a day I was working out and getting back in shape.

I’m really, really looking forward to the season opener and to go for that title. This is my goal this year more than anything. Last year, of course, the aim was the Cross Country Rallies World Championship. I was spending my energy in that so in the local championship, I wasn’t on my A-game.

This year, I want to give my all to win the Emirates Desert Championship. From there, we’ll prepare for the Cross Country Rallies World Championship.

Also, one thing was that I did not have a break, not a single week, for 24 months until my crash. I’m optimistic, so I thought I got injured but it’s good in a way because my body needed that break. I needed to recharge my batteries.

That break must have been nice to also spend some time with your family and children?

Oh yeah. When I’m at rallies, each rally is like seven days and you’re out of the country for 10 days. I always have this guilty feeling that I don’t spend enough time with the kids, but this eight-and-a-half weeks I did a lot with the kids. It was good. It’s made me more positive somehow. I’m usually a positive person but it made me even more positive, thinking [the crash] happened for a good reason.

How were you killing time during that period? You must have picked up a hobby or smashed out Netflix.

No man, my thing was food. My soul is of a 300kg huge guy. For me, I usually eat what I feel like, but I eat in moderation. But when you’re injured, you go flat out.

I also spent a lot of time with the kids at the playground. We went to SEGA Republic and I played with them. It was different. I could only do so much though because I wasn’t supposed to move around a lot, but it was their time.

Do you feel you still have plenty left to give to the sport?

Me? Always. I’m still hungry for it. I still get butterflies before races and that feeling is not done. Once it’s done, then I’ll stop, but it’s still there so I have to answer the call. I still have to accomplish my goals.

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