MILWAUKEE — For sports teams all over the state, August is the beginning of fall practices. It’s tough in the heat and humidity — and it’s even tougher on a group of athletes that couldn’t eat or drink!
At Salam School — an Islamic school — all the athletes on the soccer team are Muslim.
This year, the start of practice fell during Ramadan — an annual observance in the Muslim faith that includes fasting from dawn until sunset for about 30 days straight.
Coaches can ease up on the intensity and length of practice to preserve players’ stamina, but last year, in the team’s very first season, their very first game fell during Ramadan.
“Imagine playing 90 minutes at 4 o’clock in August while not eating or drinking anything for the whole day! Just being on the sideline — walking and yelling and screaming to the kids, and I’m getting really exhausted. After the game I said ‘I don’t care what happened, how we played, I mean, you guys are the bravest ever!'” Coach Omar Barasneh said.
There are obviously health concerns associated with such limited nutrition during extended athletic activity.
“I have to keep a close eye on everybody just to make sure they don’t faint. I have to ask them repeatedly — ‘are you thirsty?’ ‘Are you feeling dizzy?'” Barasneh said.
There is no app for the dehydration or exhaustion the athletes feel, but technology is helping them keep track of Ramadan’s strict schedule for fasting and prayer.
“The iPhone now has apps that I download and it tells you what time — because we have five prayers — it tells you exactly what time that starts and what time that ends,” Salam senior defender Murad Danche said.
The athletes don’t complain about the conditions. In fact, they insist fasting benefits them from a discipline standpoint.
“It teaches self-restraint. We restrain ourselves from the natural urges of eating and satisfying appetite and we apply it to real life. Like whenever there’s something bad that I want to do, I’d restrain myself from doing that,” Salam senior midfielder Omar Salah said.
They believe they’ll be rewarded for their sacrifice.
“We know we’re doing this for the sake of God, so we have that intention the whole way,” Danche said.
Ramadan ended on Saturday, August 18th, 2012. Some of the athletes visited 24-hour gyms and work out at night, since that’s when they could eat and their energy was highest.