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Practicing on empty

Fatigued athletes face extra challenges as they skip meals for Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting.

September 16, 2009|By Zain Shauk

When Adam Burpee’s high school football teammates rush to nearby water coolers in the afternoon heat, he watches and waits.

On a normal day, in a normal month of his senior season, the 17-year-old would take the opportunity to hydrate; but with the Muslim holy month of fasting underway, he won’t have any food or drink until after sundown — at least two hours after the end of his practices.

It’s not easy, he said, especially with August and September temperatures that have often crept up to triple-digit levels.

“It’s definitely one of the toughest things I’ve ever done,” said Adam, a Glendale resident who plays defensive back for Pasadena Poly.

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Muslims abstain from food, drink and sexual activity during daylight hours for the month of Ramadan, which presents annual challenges for athletes.

But because Ramadan follows the lunar calendar and occurs about 11 days earlier each year, the 2009 fasting schedule is longer — and hotter — than it has been in more than three decades, making it especially difficult for practicing Muslims who are also physically active.

With twice-daily “hell week” practices at the start of the season complicating matters for football players who have never trained while fasting as early as August, this year’s ritual raised questions for some athletes about where to draw the line between religious obligations and athletic goals.

“I think it’s just creating a balance,” Adam said. “I’m not going to abandon my beliefs just so I can play football, and also it’s a test for me — a physical and mental test.”

Ramadan 2009, which is set to end Saturday, has stirred its share of sports controversy as professional athletes across the globe have tried to take part in the tradition while continuing to play under harsh weather conditions.

At the Italian soccer powerhouse Inter Milan, Coach Jose Mourinho benched midfielder Sulley Muntari, a practicing Ghanaian Muslim, during his home debut match with the club, saying at a postgame news conference that the 25-year-old was “clearly struggling” because of his fast.

Ramadan has so far not affected Husain Abdullah, a defensive back for the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings, who has abstained from food and drink while playing football since he was 7, he said.

His brother, Hamza Abdullah, also fasts while playing defensive back for the Cleveland Browns, Husain Abdullah said.

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