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Gaza's 'Spiderboy' seeks to set world record

12-year-old Mohammed al-Sheikh has become a hero for his rare talent [AFP]

Date of publication: 23 May, 2016

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Palestinian 12-year-old Mohammed al-Sheikh is dubbed 'Spiderboy' for his spine-bending body contortion skills, which he now wants to use to set a new world record.

As the Israeli bombardment took place in Gaza in 2014, the lives of many Palestinians living in the blockaded enclave were affected in a number of ways.

For one of the terrirory's young heroes, dubbed the 'Spiderboy' of Gaza, this meant that his training in spine-bending body contortion was interrupted by the devestating assault on his homeland that killed over 2,000 people.

Despite this, Mohammed al-Sheikh, who is today aged 12 and stands at just 1.37 metres tall, took his skill to the Arabs Got Talent show in Lebanon just after the conflict - and managed to win over 14 million votes.

Although he didn't win the talent contest with his bizzare ability to contort his body into wierd and wonderful shapes, the youngster now hopes to set a Guinness World record for the "most full body revolutions maintaining a chest stand in one minute."

From his home in Gaza, Mohammed has submitted a video of himself spinning 360 degrees from a starting position with his chest pressed to the ground. In this amazing feat of dexterity, the youngster managed to complete 33 revolutions in one minute - making his attempt four repetitions more than the current record of 29.

Mohammed demonstrates his amazing flexibility and body strength [AFP]

Bigger dreams

While Mohammed awaits the confirmation of his new world record, like many youngsters he dreams of one day being able to access greater opportunities that could be offered if Gaza's blockade were to be lifted by Israel.

"Many Arabs and people across the world support me by clicking 'Like' on my videos on Facebook, and it makes me sad not being able to meet and interact with the world because of the blockade," Mohammed said.

The blockade on the Gaza strip, which has been enforced by Israel and Egypt since 2007, has restricted movement in and out of the strip and has led to Gaza being described as the 'largest open-air prison' on earth.

In trying to overcome this major obstacle to the development of Gaza's youth, Mohammed's coach, Muhammad Lubbad, had previously opened a training centre for unusual sports like parkour.

After a year, however, the 26-year-old no longer had the funds to keep the centre open, much to the disappointment of its young users.

"By leaving Mohammed in Gaza we bury a unique talent," said Lubbad.

Staying in school

While he has enjoyed fame and recognition in his homeland for his talent, Mohammed's mother Hanan insists that her "world champion" must stay in school to complete his studies.

Following the final of Arabs Got Talent, the young Gazan was offered a training contract to live abroad for ten years to prepare for Arab and international competitions.

Mohammed's family refused the offer, however, saying that their youngest child would not be able to live away without them.

This leaves Mohammed with a life like that of many other Palestinian children living, playing and studying under the uncertainty and stunted growth of Gaza.

And while he enjoys the popularity that his talent has brought him among schoolmates and friends, Mohammed finds his escape when he is able to engage in his skill and jump freely at home or on Gaza's beach.

"I'm in the air and there is no blockade," says the young boy, voicing the choked aspirations of a whole generation of Gaza's children who have grown up under the enforced beleaguerment of their homeland.

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