Double Olympic gold medalist Dame Kelly Holmes believes the UAE is taking great strides in its quest to improve the health and wellbeing of young people.
Holmes has been a regular visitor to the country in recent years, largely through her work as an ambassador for the philanthropic ventures of healthcare provider Daman.
In that time the 44-year-old has witnessed first-hand the fruits of numerous initiatives geared towards cutting childhood obesity and encouraging young people to engage in a healthier way of life.
Holmes was in the UAE last week to speak to the pupils of Daman’s Future Champions Programme, a scheme which mentors young people of high potential in the hope they can excel in the sporting world and also become inspirational figures within their communities.
She said: “I think these events can play a big role as the children who take part can understand that exercise is very important from a young age.
“I think it’s fantastic that there are many sporting events held here for children and even adults, so that they can think about their wellbeing and health, and how they can improve in the future.
“There are so many events that are open to children in the UAE like the TrainDubai, which is held on a weekly basis.
"It’s a great way for parents to bring their children and run or walk around the Dubai Autodrome on Wednesday evenings.
“I’ve been to TrainYas a lot of times and that attracted a lot of people of different ages, especially children, which was very encouraging to see. And the same applies to the Color Run which is hugely popular in the UAE.”
The first year-long Future Champions Programme is set to finish this April with the inaugural intake of 70 sporting prodigies poised to graduate.
They were initially cherry-picked from Daman’s various grassroots sport academies which cover football, motorsports, rugby and triathlon.
Aged 10-18, the pupils have attended various workshops over the past 10 months with Holmes joined by Egyptian triathlete Omar Nour in leading the sessions.
Focusing on everything from diet and nutrition through communication skills and even dealing with the media, the programme is designed to shape future UAE sporting icons.
It is also hoped the pupils can graduate and become a positive influence on their peers within sporting teams, academies, their schools and society in general.
Holmes, who won gold in the 800m and 1,500m at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, added: “The main thing was to speak to the children and tell them what drives an individual and what self-discipline means in a sporting context.
“They realised that they have to be committed if they want to become top athletes; they have got to be driven to go training and do the best they can in any sport that they choose.
“They have to be disciplined enough to think about what food they will be eating, whether they go out with their friends or not.”
She added: “It’s great to see so many kids on the programme and I was amazed by the answers they gave because it showed they are taking everything in and are really committed. I like the programme, the concept and love the fact that Daman are giving the young children an opportunity to do all this.”
Andrew Phillips, director of marketing and customer experience at Daman, says a key aim of mentoring ‘future champions’ is that their development will rub off on others and have a trickle-down effect in UAE society.
“Our aim is to contribute in helping young children to become fit individuals,” he said.
“It’s about going and telling their friends the importance of living a healthy lifestyle in which way they can become role models in the future.
“We not only test them on their technical abilities but also teach them skills and nurture their motivation. Our ambassadors, including Kelly Holmes, have been a great help to us.”
Know more about Sport360 Application