Mohamud Hassan, 17, plays soccer and runs track for Lewiston High School. He is currently fasting from sunrise to sunset during the month of Ramadan. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Fasting during the Islamic month of Ramadan kept Mohamud Hassan from joining the outdoor track team at Lewiston High School in the past, but finally as a junior he decided that his desire to participate ate at him more than the daily hunger he would be experiencing during part of the spring season. 

The coronavirus had different plans for the spring season — canceled — as well as Hassan and other athletes observing Ramadan, which began April 23 and runs through May 23. 

Instead of spending an entire school day “just watching people eat,” as Lewiston senior track athlete Noor Shidad put it, then going to track practice, where minds can wander away from hunger yet bodies can’t escape it, now the kids can set up their days around the Ramadan ritual. 

“This has been one of the easiest Ramadans ever for me due to the fact that we’re not at school,” Shidad said. 

“It’s been easier because I don’t have to get up as early, and sitting up at school all day and practice drains your energy,” Lewiston sophomore track athlete Abdirizak Abukar said. 

Hassan said some kids, himself included, have switched around their sleep schedules, choosing to stay up through the night, then finally go to bed after a pre-dawn meal so they can sleep through part of the fasting period, which lasts from sunrise to sunset. 

Lewiston’s Abdirazak Abukar accepts the baton from Noor Shidad during the 4×100-meter relay at last year’s Class A track and field championships in Lewiston. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal file photo

In years past, that wasn’t an option. Former Lewiston track coach Paul Soracco said some of his athletes would miss practice because their bodies were too tired from fasting. Shidad said the thirst was worse than the hunger while doing after-school sports like track. 

First-year Lewiston indoor track coach Steve Virgilio, who was preparing for his first outdoor season that included athletes observing Ramadan, had come up with some ideas to adjust to those team members who were fasting. 

“My hopes and intentions for this season were to offer an artistic and scientific approach that would honor and respect the spiritual needs and religious obligations of athletes on the team while attending to the physiological paradigms of human performance,” Virgilio said. “I had planned to offer night practices, under the lights, in an effort to allow athletes to experience the most out of their training time while providing them with the opportunity to replenish and rest immediately following.” 

While Virgilio doesn’t have first-hand experience working with athletes who are fasting for an entire month, he believes that “the human body is a fine-tuned machine.” 

“Fasting is hard on the body and mind,” he said. “It can be overwhelming at times and the biological or chemical manifestations are apparent.” 

Soracco said he had to pick and choose which events the fasting athletes would be entered in from meet to meet, not wanting the athletes to overdo it and risk having to scratch from an event, which would disqualify the athlete from the remainder of the meet. 

Dan Gish, a physical education teacher at Lewiston, has had to adjust his lessons during Ramadan for fasting students. 

“We have modified intensity levels for students during Ramadan. If they needed a break, they are allowed to,” Gish said. “Also we adapted our exercise workouts to a lower intensity that allows the student to maintain their safety.” 

While Gish’s worry is on fasting students overworking themselves, he said he has been told by some students that their worry at times shifts away from the hunger “when engaging in some type of physical activity.” 

Hassan, Shidad and Abukar all agreed that sports and activities keeps their mind off of the message that their bodies are telling them. 

Even without track this year, Abukar and Shidad said they have been trying to keep themselves moving. 

“I’ve been doing some workouts to stay active and it’s also a way to distract myself,” Abukar said. 

“I have still been training very hard and getting in better and better shape,” Shidad said. “I love sports with or without school. The hunger does not get in the way.” 

Hassan had finally come to that conclusion going into this outdoor track season, overcoming the mindset that it was better if he didn’t do track because of the fasting and that “no one that can’t eat wants to do track.” 

Hassan, who during past Ramadans has played after-school soccer “with people from around the community,” said he has spent this Ramadan cleaning his room more than ever (despite being an admittedly messy person) as well as being with his family, which “has brought us closer together.” 

“I know it’s not much, but changing little habits like that are a big help and maybe this is a break that we all needed,” he added. 

All three boys said that fasting during Ramadan isn’t a hassle, but a part of their religious Muslim experience. Shidad called it “a blessing.” 

“It is meant to help you have more control over your emotions, temptations and just overall better control over yourself,” he said. 

“It gives more of a spiritual freedom and increases concentration levels, and physically it is great for your body,” Abukar said. “It acts like a detox and heightens energy and focus levels.” 

“Ramadan is a very spiritual month,” Hassan said. “If you don’t believe in fasting it will be harder. Since we’re fasting for religion we believe this is all worth it so we’re dedicated and that’s what makes it easier for us then if you’re just doing it to see what it is like.” 

After getting the itch during indoor track this winter, Hassan said he will “definitely” do outdoor track next year, and that he wants to be around Virgilio, whose approach to coaching track goes beyond just performance. 

“I think we would have made it through Ramadan and this season in a way we all could have been satisfied and proud of. I know the team and athletes individually would have thrived,” Virgilio said. “I think we could have done something to touch our friends, family and community too. That’s been the purpose and intention of every season I’ve ever competed or coached.” 

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.