Omar Tom is participating in the Dubai Fitness Challenge following two kidney transplants Image Credit: Hamad Saleh

Thirty consecutive days of exercise is tough enough for the average participant, but for Omar Tom, the Dubai Fitness Challenge poses extra challenges. Tom, 29, suffered from kidney reflux as a two-year-old. “It’s actually quite normal to occur in babies — it causes minor scarring to the kidneys, and over time the kidney repairs itself,” he says. “Unfortunately, over time one of mine didn’t repair as well as the other, which resulted in kidney dysplasia.” Tom underwent a kidney transplant — donated by his father — in 2010 and then another transplant — this one given by his brother — in 2016. After months of training, he’s now in the middle of the Dubai Fitness Challenge.

Post-operation hurdles

What sort of challenges does one face after a kidney transplant? “My body ended up getting bigger — I’d bloat — with water retention and I’d gain a lot of weight because of the medication,” explains Tom. “From being a jock at school and university to gaining all of this weight, losing it in 2013 and then gaining it back again in 2016 after the second surgery… it kind of messes up your entire system.” Tom represented his high school — Choueifat Sharjah — in basketball, football and cross-country, so it was painful for him to feel his body losing its shape post-surgery. “I was always a fairly slim person, up until the surgery and then it went downhill.”

Fitness comeback

For Tom, the toughest aspect of getting back into shape after his transplants was something fundamental: breathing. “Because I hadn’t exercised as well since I was much younger, in my head I always thought my stamina is better than it actually is. That’s probably the biggest disappointment — when you realise you’re actually not that fit. The other thing that was hard was the discipline and being able to commit. I’d get really excited at the beginning and would get really into [working out] for a couple of weeks and then I’d fall off the wagon.” This was a continuous cycle for him, and one that only broke with a set routine. “We’re creatures of habit, so I find that once I make it the first two times back in the gym or for a run, it picks up pace on its own and becomes a regular routine.

“Since April I’ve been pretty consistent in terms of working out. There’ve been ups and downs but I’ve lost about 15kg and I’m able to run. Before, I could barely do 500 metres — now I average 4-4.5km on a steady run. I’m doing weights as well, strength and fitness CrossFit and yoga. I keep fairly busy in that sense, but this is the first time I’m exercising for 30 days non-stop.”

This is a benchmark for me, and after the 30-day challenge I’m going to find the next one.

- Omar Tom

Tom’s doctors have banned him from contact sports — “I avoid anything that risks me getting hit in the lower abdomen where the transplanted kidneys are” — and advised him to drink a lot of water. “I have 4-4.5 litres a day. In terms of diet, my own guidelines are actually stricter than what the doctor recommends.”

Regrets 

If there’s one thing Tom regrets, it’s the fear he used to feel. “That was the hardest thing I had to deal with at the time, especially around the first surgery. The idea that you’re not going to be normal because you’re going to be taking medications for the rest of your life — that’s a very scary thought. You want to be like everybody else and you won’t be able to enjoy life like them. At 21, you want to have fun and the idea and that you can’t is very scary. Because of that, I kind of held back and didn’t do so many things that I wanted to do. In hindsight, I’m now doing a lot more than I thought I could do — not only in fitness, but generally.” Thanks to the Dukkan Show, his culture-focused podcast with more than 128 episodes, Tom was able to launch a publishing and advertising agency under the same brand. His fitness journey has even been sponsored by Nike.

“It’s funny because when I first started and was sitting with the Nike team and they asked me what my plans and goals were, I told them my immediate goal was to be able to compete in the 30-day challenge. I was never that consistent with my exercise, just three or four days a week and that was it.” Tom was training to be able to exercise for 30 days. “This is a benchmark for me, and after the 30-day challenge I’m going to find the next one.” He’s interested in the upcoming ADNOC Marathon (“Not the whole thing, probably — just 5km for now”) and is pondering Mount Kilimanjaro for the future.