Text size:

  • Small
  • Normal
  • Large
Ahmed Al Hameli looks back at some past pictures of him at the Abu Dhabi International Marine Club to relive his glory days. Christopher Pike / The National
Ahmed Al Hameli looks back at some past pictures of him at the Abu Dhabi International Marine Club to relive his glory days. Christopher Pike / The National
Ahmed Al Hameli came back in time to race for Team Abu Dhabi for the new season starting with Brasilia last month. Vittorio Ubertone / Idea Marketing
Ahmed Al Hameli came back in time to race for Team Abu Dhabi for the new season starting with Brasilia last month. Vittorio Ubertone / Idea Marketing

Ahmed Al Hameli back for Ukraine powerboat round, as brain tumour survivor

The Team Abu Dhabi driver is racing again in Ukraine less than a year after he was diagnosed with life-threatening illness.

Ahmed Al Hameli would be forgiven for approaching his trip to Ukraine this weekend with an acute degree of trepidation.

No apologies necessary. Oddly, the Team Abu Dhabi driver cannot wait to get back there. He loves Kiev, the Ukrainian capital that straddles the banks of the Dnieper River. And, more to the point, he loves racing his powerboat.

But the last time he went there, to compete in the third race of the UIM F1H20 World Championship, 12 months ago, it was a life-changing return journey.

Having finished runner-up in that grand prix in Kiev, he headed home to Abu Dhabi and was immediately beset by dizziness. He could not eat; even drinking water brought on nausea.

And he was not getting better. "It was a good race for me, a good memory," he says.

"After the race I came back home and I had a bad feeling in me, that something was not right. I went to the hospital and after the check-up they told me I had a brain tumour. I had to fly to the US the same week."

He is as matter of fact as that about it. Because of the nature of his job Al Hameli is used to getting from A to B in double-quick time.

Within four days of being diagnosed, he was going under the knife at the John Hopkins Hospital, in the United States, which is widely regarded as one of the world's leading brain surgery institutions.

"I flew there, got an appointment and they did the operation that same week," the Abu Dhabi-born racer says.

"I wasn't scared because there was nothing I could do. What could I do? I have only one chance to do the brain operation and that was it.

"I spoke to the doctor; he has done many operations of this kind and he said it is OK.

"I went to the operation room and told them to do whatever they needed to do, because I can't stay like this."

When fate intervened, Al Hameli had a nine-point lead in the world championship table and was seemingly en route to his first title, having first competed in the class in 2006.

It was a marker of how well-placed he was when misfortune struck that Al Hameli still finished fifth in the final standings even though he missed the final three events of the six-race season.

His 50-point haul, gathered via a win in Qatar followed by second-place finishes in Russia and Ukraine, was just 29 points behind the eventual champion, Alex Carella of Italy.

All of which is, of course, of secondary concern to his health. Not that you would know it from speaking to him. Forget general well-being: all that concerned him was getting back to racing.

"I was in a hurry to get into the boat," he says, remember his first day back in the cockpit. That day, I was the first person into the boat.

"I had been in the US watching my friends racing and I felt really bad. I felt that there was nothing wrong with me. I hadn't suffered in an accident.

"When I flew from the US I though that was it, that I wasn't going to race again. The doctor told me so many things.

"He said I can't race, that I have to take care. Then after I finished my medication he said I could return to racing, but to take care."

After eight months of medication, an attestation from the surgeons, his doctor in Abu Dhabi, and a rigorous fitness examination, he was reissued his super licence in May.

It was just in time for Al Hameli, who cut his teeth racing jet skis, before graduating to wooden-powerboating then F1 powerboating, to return for the first leg of the new season at a grand prix in Brazil.

"I felt strange when I went back, because I didn't think the guys would be like this," he says.

"They were very happy for me to be back. They welcomed me back like a brother."

His spirit in adversity has been an inspiration for friends and rivals alike.

"It's been such a uplifting experience to watch Ahmed fight through this struggle," Scott Gillman, the four-time world champion who is the manager of Team Abu Dhabi, said back in May.

"Ahmed has given all of us a lesson in courage and fortitude by showing us what can be accomplished if the mind and body are willing.

"By the grace of God, he is now ready and has returned to our team set to get back to his No 1 love in life: racing."

Sort of his No 1 love, anyway. It is easy to see he adores it. He is startlingly impassive when talking about his medical travails, laid back to the point of indifference about what he has been through.

As he recalls, the moment he was told emergency surgery was required to save his life, he seems entirely distracted by the reading matter on the coffee table in front of him.

He blithely recounts the story of travelling to America under heavy sedation, struggling to convey any obvious sense of the trip's gravity while his fingers sift energetically through powerboating magazines.

And he radiates animation when he leads the way out of his team's base at Abu Dhabi International Marine Sports Club and eyes the photo gallery on the wall in the foyer. "That is me," he says, variously waving his way along the pictures. "That is my cousin - he taught me everything I know. That is my boat.

"That is where I started," he says, pointing at a wooden-hulled speedboat which is tipping up at an alarming angle.

But is it his absolute No 1 love? Unlikely. In fact, racing probably just loses out in that competition to his three sons - but having said that, he can combine both.

"Yes, of course they have been out on the boat with me," he says. "Maybe one will be a Formula One car racer, one Formula One boat and the other Class One."

pradley@thenational.ae

twitter Follow us @SprtNationalUAE

Back to the top

More articles


Editor's Picks

 Real Madrid players Angel Di Maria, left, Pepe, Cristiano Ronaldo, Luka Modric and Marcelo attend a training session at Real Madrid’s Valdebebas training grounds outside Madrid on April 22, 2014. Real Madrid will play Bayern Munich in a Uefa Champions League semi-final, first leg match in Madrid on Wednesday. REUTERS/Andrea Comas

In pictures: Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale train with Real Madrid

A well-rested Real Madrid side trains on Tuesday ahead of their Uefa Champions League semi-final, first leg match against Bayern Munich on Wednesday night. Stadnouts Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale are both expected to be in action at the Bernabeu.

 Chelsea players argue with Atletico Madrid during their scoreless draw in the Champions League semi-final first leg match at the Vicente Calderon Stadium in Madrid, Spain on Tuesday. Gerard Julien / AFP / April 22, 2014

In pictures: Chelsea lock horns with Atletico in scoreless Champions League draw

Chelsea held Atletico Madrid scoreless at home on Tuesday as the two will head to Stamford Bridge for a winner-take-all second leg.

 Walter Zenga wants his Al Jazira side to continue building on the recent positive results they have had in Asian Champions League, even though they have already qualified for the knockout stage. Karim Jaafar / AFP

Walter Zenga aims for Al Jazira to carry momentum in Asian Champions League

The Al Jazira coach Walter Zenga is set to field his strongest line-up as the UAE club seek to topple Saudi Arabia’s Al Shabab as leaders of Group A.

 Sourav Ganguly, left, and Sanjiv Goenka, vice-chairman of RPG Enterprises, pose with footballs during a press conference to announce their ownership of the Kolkata franchise in the upcoming Indian Super League on April 14, 2014. Dibyangshu Sarkar / AFP

Indian Super League high on ambition, short-seeming on the football

While a number of high-profile figures are throwing in with the Indian Super League hoping to make a splash in world football, many local voices are arguing the foundation for the tournament is shaky.

 Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo, left, and Gareth Bale share a laugh during training on Tuesday. Both players will be fit for Wednesday night’s Uefa Champions League semi-final, first leg against Bayern Munich at the Bernabeu. Chema Moya / EPA

Rested Real Madrid side hope to catch Bayern Munich on a slide

Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale will be fit for Real Madrid in Uefa Champions League semi-final, first leg match while the holders are trying to recover from a Bundesliga slump.

 Toni Kroos of Bayern Munich will lead his team against Real Madrid in a Uefa Champions League semi-final, first leg match on Wednesday night. Alexander Hassenstein / Getty Images

Toni Kroos is a wanted man at Bayern Munich

Kroos’s talks with Bayern over renewing a contract have stalled while Manchester United, and Wednesday night’s opponents, Real Madrid, are among those keen to offer him an alternative place of work, writes Ian Hawkey.

Events

To add your event to The National listings, click here

Get the most from The National