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For the first time in the pre-season, I came late to JV basketball practice. I had made the team at 336 pounds, during my junior year in high school, even though all of my classmates were playing varsity I was just happy to make the team. That day Coach Slappy looked at me as I entered the gym, and without giving me the chance to explain my tardiness, he put his index finger up and circled it in the air, directing me to run laps. I was ok with the punishment for the tardiness, but what I wasn't ok with, was his insistence on the "finger-circling" when I asked and continued asking as I ran, "how many laps coach?"

That day I felt that I had

For the first time in the pre-season, I came late to junior varsity basketball practice. I had made the team at 336 pounds, during my junior year in high school, even though all of my classmates were playing varsity, I was just happy to make the team. That day Coach Slappy looked at me as I entered the gym, and without giving me the chance to explain my tardiness, he put his index finger up and circled it in the air, directing me to run laps. I was ok with the punishment for the tardiness, but what I wasn't ok with was his insistence on the "finger-circling" when I asked and continued asking as I ran, "how many laps, coach?"

That day I felt as though I had received the worst punishment of my life. I could have run a 100 laps that day had he let me know how many laps I needed to run, but the psychological punishment was, for me, nothing short of torture. That day, I ran 29 laps around the basketball court, but every lap felt like the last one. By the time Coach Slappy remembered to tell me to stop, I was mentally and physically drained.

I remembered this story on my 27th birthday - my second in prison - as I finished 290 days on hunger strike. It's exactly 10 years later, and I am 150 pounds lighter. I am sitting in an underground Egyptian dungeon reflecting on that basketball season and its relevance to my current circumstances. I have lost the sense of hunger, I lose consciousness often, I wake up to bruises and a bloody mouth almost daily and physical pain has become the norm. My body has become numb as it eats away at itself.

Psychological torture

But none of that is as painful as the psychological torture that the ambiguity of the detainment (under an indefinite temporary holding law) is imposing. This dark and gloomy nightmare that I have no clue how it descended on me so suddenly, how long it will last, how and when it will end. A much more extreme feeling than that of Coach Slappy's punishment, yet similar; mental and physical depletion. I do not know how long until this "punishment" ends, so every day passes like it is the last, slow and excruciating.

It's exactly 10 years later, and I am 150 pounds lighter. I am sitting in an underground Egyptian dungeon reflecting on that basketball season and its relevance to my current circumstances.

And just when the rare tears filled up my eyes as I go down memory lane to that basketball season, it all began to come together. That year I stopped smoking sheesha, lost 60 pounds, worked extra hard every practice, and moved from benching the junior varsity team to sixth-man, to a starter. By the end of the year, I was on the varsity basketball team with my classmates.

I realised that that one day, Coach Slappy decided to punish me, he wanted to test my mental strength, my potential, and whether I had enough heart for the game. He kept this up the rest of season, and I was certainly transforming into a better basketball player. My mental strength would be cultivated through these tests because I trusted he was making me a better player.

Weakness and inability

I could not help the tears flowing down my cheeks as I thought of my weakness and inability to fully trust God's wisdom as I did with Coach Slappy. There was no comparison of course; This test is much more extreme and definitely more painful, but just like the former made me stronger, this was also going to make me stronger. Just like I was prepped to be a better basketball player, I was being molded by God to be a wiser human, an effective leader, and a stronger advocate of freedom and peace. My coach's words - "Hate every moment of training but love and cherish every second of victory" - are ever-so relevant.

A ray of optimism lit my heart. That's the thing about birthdays, anniversaries, new years, etc. They inspire reflections of the past, thoughts and emotions around purpose, priorities, plans, future and hope.

I wiped my tears and just as I began to prepare for night prayer to thank God for all His blessings, I smiled as I remembered what I told myself 10 years ago during the 29th lap... This has an end.

Mohamed Soltan is an Egyptian-American political activist who was arrested by Egyptian security forces on August 25, 2013. He faces trial for a raft of terror and conspiracy-related charges in connection with his participation in demonstrations against the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi.

Source: Al Jazeera