Ahmed Shafik poses with his silver medal at the Parapan American Games Lima 2019 on Aug. 31, 2019 in Lima, Peru.
Two-time Paralympian Ahmed Shafik’s moment on the medal stand was a long time coming.
Following in his father’s footsteps, Shafik began his powerlifting career over decades ago in his home country of Iraq. His father, Abdul, was a record-setting Iraqi weightlifter and he hoped to do the same.
“My dad was champion,” said Shafik. “He’s the reason why I’m lifting.”
Shafik was born with polio, which affects the strength of his legs, so he took up powerlifting.
In 1998, Shafik was good enough to make his first world championship powerlifting team for Iraq. He finished fifth at world championships, which wasn’t enough according to members of the Iraq National Olympic Committee. The committee has been overseen by Saddam Hussein’s eldest son, Uday, since 1984.
“In 1998, I was thrown into jail by Sadam’s regime,” said Shafik. “My fifth-place finish wasn’t good enough and they put me in prison for over 14 months.”
During his time in prison, Shafik was tortured, beaten and humiliated.
Following his release, Shafik stopped powerlifting completely and moved to the United States to seek refuge in 2000.
“From 1998 to 2007, I didn’t do anything,” said Shaifik. “I didn’t lift. I didn’t work out.”
In 2007, after almost ten years of not competing, Shafik decided to give powerlifting another shot. Around this time Shafik joined the U.S. Army and was deployed to Iraq as a translator.
“I started competing for Team USA and since then I’ve had a ton of great results,” said Shafik. “And a lot of medals.”
Shafik was a member of the U.S. Paralympic Team for both London in 2012 and Rio in 2016. He competed at his first Parapan American Games in Toronto in 2015, where he earned a bronze medal.
Now at his second Parapan American Games, Shafik is happier than ever before about his silver medal finish.
“I’ve traveled to so many countries and have got so many medals, but this is my best result so far,” said Shafik. “I’ve prepared so long for this one. It’s a new personal record for me and a new American record.”
Now a father himself, Shafik says his two sons are his motivation.
“This is for them,” said Shafik. “It’s really hard. It’s a big commitment. Hopefully one day they will remember what I did. The legacy I made for myself and them.”
Shafik says there is nowhere, but up from here. He’s confident this is the momentum he needed to continue training for Tokyo.
“Hard work will always pay off,” said Shafik. “I have a goal, which is to qualify for Tokyo 2020. Tokyo is my dream.”
But until then, Shafik is going home with a smile on his face know he made so many proud, including his father.
“It’s in our genes,” said Shafik. “I’m sure he’s proud of me.”