There is little question that the simmering threat of heat stroke remains a top concern of high school coaches and athletes (not to mention health professionals) across the country, with yet another teen falling prey to the extreme heat on Tuesday. For one teen in Florida, that threat is even more dire as he tries to cope with the religious restrictions of Ramadan, all while working through his first ever varsity football training camp.
Ahmed Elshaer is a rising sophomore at Wesley Chapel (Fla.) High. As first reported in a terrific story by the St. Petersburg Times' Matt Baker, he's also a devout Muslim, with his faith growing even stronger since he and his family emigrated to the United States from Saudi Arabia when he was 9. Soon thereafter, he began fasting during the holy month of Ramadan, a practice which requires him to reject all food and water from sunup to sundown.
The teenager insists that fasting during Ramadan is a keen part of his identity. In past years, Ramadan fasting kept Elshaer from joining football teams at all, for fear that he would struggle to handle practicing without food or water. Yet this year Elshaer decided to play for the Wesley Chapel varsity team, and his commitment to his faith hardly seems to have wavered, even as he works through his first ever training camp, in which he has emerged as a potential starter on the team's offensive line.
"Millions of people on earth don't have food or water," Elshaer told the St. Petersburg Times. "It puts you in their shoes. … "If [Minnesota Vikings safety Hussain Abdullah] can do it, I can do it.
"It's tough, but I've got to do it for my religion."
While daytime fasting hasn't kept Elshaer out of any preseason practices or drills yet, it has created another level of concern for his coaches and other Pasco County officials. Wesley Chapel head football coach Ben Alford said he is particularly concerned about Elshaer because of both his lack of hydration and the level to which he pushes himself on the field, citing the sophomore as one of the team's toughest players.
To cope with the Florida heat for Elshaer and the rest of the team, Alford moved the program's practices to 7 a.m., when it is still a bit cooler for outdoor workouts. When the Wesley Chapel team takes water breaks, Elshaer dumps water over his head and neck in an effort to cool down his core temperature.
At the end of practice, the 16-year-old heads home for a cold shower, a nap and an afternoon spent in air conditioning until his family can gather for its traditional evening meal after the sun sets.
The trying conditions have already taken their toll on Elshaer's body, with the teen dropping some 10 pounds since Ramadan began August 1. Still, while Elshaer's coaches and teammates express concern over his steadfast determination to stick to the guidelines of Islam, he has consistently expressed a more stoic and steely determination, all based on his faith.
"If it's my time, it's my time," Elshaer said. "If not, God watches over me."