A Fight Formed From Adversity
Those who face adversity often have a special perspective on life; a gratitude for what’s truly important, a commitment to make their time on Earth count and an empathy towards others living in challenging situations.
Afghan-born boxer Hamed Ghaz is one of those people. At time of writing he has won every one of his eighteen professional fights. He’s a man dedicated to using his gifts, time, passion and determination to reach the highest level he can achieve – not just for himself, but for the City of Bradford and those who are less fortunate.
Hamed’s father is his hero, and it’s not hard to see why when you learn about the sacrifice he made for the sake of his family. In Afghanistan, he once ran a successful manufacturing business with his brothers until the economy collapsed under the Taliban, leaving his family with little prospects for their future. Hamed was just five years old at the time.
So, at great personal cost, Hamed’s father took the painful decision to leave his home country and family to seek asylum in the UK. “His ultimate goal was not just about surviving, it was about the future.” says Hamed.
For six years Hamed’s mother took care of Hamed and his siblings in the capital city of Kabul amongst the backdrop of war. “There was nothing for us there, no education. We heard bomb blasts and fighting all the time but you just had to get on with life. Whenever I left my house my mum would always be worried… there was no certainty of safety, it was a really stressful time,” he recalls.
Talking about this time in his life, Hamed speaks with a sense of gratitude and sadness. “When I think back to my childhood, there was happiness, but at the same time, being at that young age and living away from your dad was hard. We were living off bare minimum but we had food on the table and a roof over our heads.”
Hope was powerful during this time and something they all clinged to, because his father had promised that one day they’d be reunited and living in the UK together. Speaking of the day they were reunited, Hamed says, “It was very emotional. My younger brother was born the day my dad left for the UK, so they’d never actually met. We all had tears of joy.”
Hamed was eleven when he arrived in Bradford. He and his family lived in a two bedroom terrace. “There were seven of us living in that house for about four years. Five siblings sharing one room meant getting up extra early to get ready for school. It was a real struggle at first, but we were so grateful to be together.”
Describing the contrast from his life in Afghanistan, he says, “It’s been a big eye-opener to come from a third world country and then to live with running hot water and a roof over my head. The right to live freely and do what you wish is amazing.”
There’s an enormous amount of gratitude for how the people of Bradford have welcomed him. He speaks about the kindness of teachers and children at school, and the value of community groups. He expresses love and pride for a city where such a diverse population with multiple ethnicities, cultures and religions have learnt to live peacefully alongside each other.
His challenging start in life has become the foundation of his work ethic and success. “Seeing all that stuff has helped me focus, work hard and appreciate life more. And it’s not just me, my whole family lives this way.” However it’s an ethos that is often in contrast to the society that surrounds him. “I used to work in a restaurant when I was fifteen. And when you come from a country where people are doing anything to fill their stomachs, the amount of food waste I saw hurt my feelings.”
Hamed’s early life understandably grounded him in gratefulness for the life he now has. “I’m fortunate enough now to decide what I eat – but there are so many countries where people don’t have enough freedom to make that decision.”
This gratitude overflows into his boxing profession. “My dad and religion have taught me to give back. It can be the smallest thing, like smiling at someone or giving someone a meal and every fight I have, whatever I earn, a certain amount goes to charity, to people who are less fortunate than me.”
His passion for sport began in Afghanistan, where he learnt Taekwondo. He then discovered boxing in Bradford, and fell in love with it. “Boxing is a way of life. It disciplines me and gives structure and framework to life, and it stops me getting involved in so many distractions like partying, drugs and clubbing.”
Reflecting on a quote he’s found recently, “‘Success is not owned, it’s just rented and rent is due every day’. It’s so true,” he says. “When it comes to training, I’m not shy of anything. When I retire from boxing I don’t want to look back and think I could have worked a bit harder. I give it my all and I’ve had that mentality throughout.”
The lessons he’s learnt through boxing are universal. When asked about them, he pauses before responding, “When your body is taking a beating in round nine, your body doesn’t like it and your mind doesn’t like it but you have to remain mentally strong. I just think ‘this is temporary, the fight will finish, the training will end, you’re going to get through this’. It’s about not giving up.”
Then he goes deeper, “It’s hard to express how I feel, but it gives me peace. When I’m taking a beating in the ring and my heart rate is beating at 180, everything disappears – the nerves, the shouts from the crowd. If I can be calm in that position, then I can be calm in whatever life throws at me.” He acknowledges that it’s still a work in progress. “It’s easy to make mistakes in that zone and people tend to panic, but if you’re relaxed it brings clarity. It tends to be easier, and you see punches coming, you see the openings.”
Airing on Sky TV in December, his next fight could change things – he’s fighting to challenge for the English Lightweight Championship and IBO Continental Championship titles. “It’s an opportunity that could open up so many doors for me… but then again it might not,” he says. He conveys a sense of gratitude for the moment, rather than straining for something he has no control over.
His dream is to become world champion and one day defend the title in front of a home crowd at Valley Parade. When asked why he’s aiming so high, he replies, “Why not?” After a short pause, he continues, “Bradford is a part of me, I want to give back to the city. And having the world visit Bradford, that’d be amazing!”
Hamed’s grounded humility and determination is refreshing to listen to. “Thinking about my past, everything I’m doing now – I’m a winner. I want to make Bradford proud, I want to give back to people less fortunate, I don’t want to let sponsors down that have been with me since day one and I want to make my dad proud – so I can’t stop.”
He concludes, “Everyone has potential, but you have to choose the right thing to work hard at. God has given everyone a different gift and once you find that gift then give it 110%. You’ll have times when you fail, but it’s about not giving up! Anything is achievable if you put the work in.”
Story and Photographs by Tom Harmer