By Nick Dingus, Sports Editor
Every day as the morning sun rises over Raley chapel in Shawnee, Oklahoma, Saleh Saleem Fadel and his wife Hanan Ismaiel Abou-Shaweesh are just finishing their lunch in Dawhat Al Qatar, a suburb of Al Doha, the capital city of Qatar. 7,750 miles away back in Shawnee, their son Saleem Saleh Fadel is just starting his day at Oklahoma Baptist University.
Saleem is a sophomore sports management major at OBU. In addition to his studies, Saleem is a member of the OBU track and field team, competing in the shot put and hammer throw.
Saleem’s parents, both Palestinian refugees, grew up in neighboring countries, his mother in Egypt and his father in Syria. The two met as young adults while working in Qatar, and later built their life in the small gulf country.
From a young age, Saleem’s father knew his son would be a great athlete.
“I noticed it when Saleem was young, so I encouraged him to exercise and work hard. I would take him to wide places to practice his favorite sport,” Saleh said.
When he was young, Saleem’s favorite sport was soccer.
“I played goalkeeper, but I played too aggressive; after I broke my little finger, he was worried about me getting injured again. He encouraged me to leave soccer, and find a less dangerous, individual sport.”
Saleh took Saleem to a sporting club near their home, where he knew a coach. Even at a young age, Saleem was bigger and stronger than the other kids at the sports club.
“My father took me to a small club where he knew the track and field coach, and the coach put me through some athletic tests. He had me throw something… a medicine ball I think. Because I was so big for my age, I threw it further than the other kids my age and the coach said, ‘wow, I must have you on my team,’” Saleem said.
Saleem continued to grow and continued to train. He was eventually accepted into one of the premier athletic secondary schools in the world, Aspire Academy.
Aspire Academy’s mission is to “develop well-educated sports champions. We foster Qatar society realizing a healthy, active lifestyle,” according to their website. Qatar’s national football (soccer) team is made up solely of past and present Aspire student athletes.
It was during his time at Aspire that Saleem first had the ability to compete on the international level.
“I have competed it not only the Gulf States youth championships, as well as in the Asian youth championships. In 2013, I won a bronze medal at the U18 World Track and Field Championships in Brazil for hammer throw.”
While already an accomplished athlete in Qatar, Saleem desired to take his athletic career further. He knew that his best chance to continue growing as an athlete was in the United States.
“I began looking at universities online, and collect-ing the email addresses of different track and field coaches. My sister helped me write a professional email to each of them, telling them who I was and what I wanted to do. I got many responses from all of the United States,” Saleem said.
Saleem had offers from schools in New Jersey all the way to California and Texas. However, the one that stood out to him was in Oklahoma.
“One of the universities that was interested in me was Oklahoma City University. I didn’t know where Oklahoma was, but I chose OCU. This was my first time in America. I traveled to Oklahoma City with my father and my sister. However, there was some miscommunication with the school. They were not able to offer me a full scholarship; they could only offer me a partial scholarship. This meant that I could not afford to go there, so I asked the OCU coach for help.”
From there, Coach Matt Aguero pointed Saleem east to OBU, Saleem and his father visited that same week. Longtime OBU coach Ford Mastin was impressed by Saleem’s athletic ability and offered him a scholarship for track and field. When Saleem stepped for on campus, he became one of only a handful of Muslims on OBU’s campus. While many Christian parents would have serious reservations about sending their child off to a Muslim university, Saleem’s father, a devout Muslim had the opposite reaction.
“I had no problem with the university being Christian; all the people there have provided support and help to my son, so I don’t have to worried about him. The fact is that our religion encourages and motivates us to learn about other religions and I’m really thankful for everyone there,” Saleh said.
Even though it is tough for any parent to send their away child to school, Saleem’s parents know that there are great opportunities waiting for their son in the United States.
“His mother was worried a little bit about him because she is a mother. I explained to her that there’s a bright future waiting for our son to be able to study and play sports in the USA. Saleem is a polite and a good boy. I expect him to continue to excel in sports and in his academic life, and in the future he will exceed all expectations,” Saleh said.
Saleem will be competing in his first season for OBU after taking a redshirt season last year. Based on results from last years NCAA Track and Field championship results, Saleem may be one of the best hammer throwers in division II. Saleem also hopes to qualify for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
“I think that with Coach Mastin and Coach Kron, I will be able to qualify for the next Olympics. For me it is not so much about winning; I want to have that experience of being there. I want to look back in fifty or sixty years and say, ‘I was there in 2020; I was an Olympian.’
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