Ultra-runner Ahmed Al Katheeri flies flag for UAE at Marathon des Sables

Chris Bailey 24/04/2019
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Many people go that extra mile, but one Emirati always goes a step further than the rest.

Ahmed Al Katheeri became the first person to fly the flag for the UAE earlier this month at the Marathon Des Sables, an historic ultra-marathon staged in the Sahara Desert – unsurprisingly billed as the toughest foot race in the world.

It was by no means Al Katheeri’s first endurance race – he had recently completed the five-day, 270km Al Marmoom Ultra Marathon in Dubai – but he enlisted the help of endurance sports specialists I Love Supersport Dubai to help him reach his goal.

Some 10 weeks later, Al Katheeri was all smiles as he crossed the finish line for his country, after an epic six-day adventure that pushed his body to its limits.

“The conditions were extreme,” admitted the 42-year-old. “It was over 30 degrees in the day time, and at night around 4 or 5, and I had to carry everything with me.

“I was very proud to represent my country and my people, especially without any support from clubs or big companies to find sponsorship.”

As one can imagine, it took meticulous preparation and Al Katheeri honed his nutrition, race strategy, heart rate zones, strength and conditioning, plus technical skills with help from ILSS.

The goal was to finish in very good condition, rather than crawl over the line – and it was mission accomplished.

“Not a huge period of time to do proper work needed for a race like MdS but it looked reasonable keeping in mind Ahmed’s experience – he did a few ultra runs in 2018 including a phenomenal finish at the multi stage one in Dubai,” said Rinat Mustafin, managing partner of ILSS Dubai.

“Ten weeks is not a big period to change something drastically however we made a plan to get best out of it.

“We used the 21k trail race at Mt Sana for a race simulation when Ahmed tested all his gears, clothes, shoes, nutrition, did some tempo work.

“It all seems to have worked well and we are proud of Ahmed’s performance at MdS – he did really solid and great work out there, representing UAE flag for the first time ever in the history.”

Al Khateeri with Rinat Mustafin of ILSS.

Al Khateeri with Rinat Mustafin of ILSS.

Not that Al Katheeri is stopping there.

He plans to run the 100km Race to the Stones in the UK in July, while a desert run in Texas is also in his sights.

The big aim, however, is to become only the ninth person to race in five 250km races in a calendar year on different continents in 2020, including a staggering sub-zero effort in Antarctica.

“I’ll try to make contact with a big supermarket with a big fridge, and put my treadmill there so I can try to practice at cold temperatures,” said Al Katheeri, who resides in Abu Dhabi. “I don’t have enough money to go to Siberia for training!”

But it is desert running that is in his blood and Al Katheeri puts down his love of such extreme competition down to his upbringing in Al Ain.

“I didn’t live far away from the desert – 500m away from the dunes,” he recalled. “When I trained in the desert, I figured out why I love this sport – it takes me back to where I spent my childhood, when we as kids in the afternoon ran on the dunes or played football, and sometimes when it rained and the sand was firm, we took bicycles.

“You do it all from yourself – your own patience, your own love, giving every emotion from your body.”

I Love Supersport Dubai is the premier international endurance sports school. No matter your age or ability, achieve your goals as a swimmer, runner, cyclist and triathlete under the tutelage of some of the region’s best coaches. Visit dubai.ilovesupersport.com for more details.

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Women athletes have made great strides but social stigma still exists in MMA and particularly in the Middle East

Hiba Khan 19/07/2018
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The lines between genders have been blurring rapidly and the world of sports is a testament to that as women involvement continues to grow exponentially over the last couple of years.

With both FIFA and FIBA overturning their ban on head gears, many sports have eased up restrictions to further pave way for more females participation, regardless of their culture and faith.

Despite the rising acceptance of female athletes, there is a case of taking one step forward and two steps back as cultural barriers and blatant sexual objectification continue to stigmatise women and hinder their involvement in certain sports, particularly contact or combat sports like mixed martial arts (MMA).

Even though MMA has produced some notable female fighters, the media is often guilty of sexualising them or using provocative content to increase viewership that downplays the achievements and talents of these athletes.

A 2013 headline in FOX Sports about Ronda Rousey epitomized the problem surrounding the portrayal of women in MMA and further underlined the implication that female fighters are admired for more than just their athleticism.

The Middle Eastern perception of martial arts is still heavily rooted in traditional views of masculinity, so women who participate in the sport are thought to be at risk of compromising their femininity.

Egyptian author, digital marketer, and certified personal trainer Lara Fawzy started dabbling in Muay Thai two years ago and embraced the sport for bringing about a positive change in her overall health and well-being.

Considering the numerous benefits of the sport, Fawzy decided to become an advocate for females who wish to take part in the sport and break the stereotypes that are associated with it.

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Lara Fawzy advocates for women who wish to take up MMA.

“There are a lot of perceptions about Muay Thai that it is some sort of an aggressive or angry sport, and of course a lot of people tend to think that it is only appropriate for men and women who practice it are not feminine. It’s just a complete lack of knowledge about the sport and its benefits,” she said.

When asked how had Muay Thai changed her as a woman, Lara told Sport360 that practicing the martial art had made her more confident and fit, but as an MMA fan was not very pleased with the way the women were depicted.

“I disagree that women in martial arts should be sexualised. Martial arts sports are empowering, and as a marketer I believe this may be done to appeal to the opposite sex, however, this is not something women need or would like to see. Training any form of martial arts sports is a great way to keep fit, to be strong, to increase discipline and to learn self-defence. There are many benefits, which I think should be emphasised,” she explained.

Fawzy’s Muay Thai/kickboxing coach, Jason Woodham, feels like the stigma is more of a regional issue rather than a global one and has noticed a significant rise in the number of girls joining his classes.

“It does depend on the region, compared to Europe the Middle East still has the stigma. For example, in Saudi Arabia women have just been granted the right to drive, and so maybe there is a bit of stigma if they do a combat sport,” he said.

“Every year there is a 5-10 per cent increase in the number of girls joining my class. I believe that the increase is because of the UFC has created stars. There’s Valentina Shevchenko, Rose Namajunas ‘Thug Rose’, who’s just won the strawweight title, Joanna Jedrzejczyk from Poland, Cris Cyborg, Ronda Rousey – the main ones, so it’s massive now!”

Both Fawzy and Woodham are optimistic that a change in attitude towards combat sport is in the pipeline, but it is vital to first acknowledge and have a conversation about it to pave the way for change.

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Fatima Bint Mubarak Ladies Sports Academy strives to increase number of women practicing sports

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The Fatima Bint Mubarak Ladies Sports Academy (FBMA) has contributed a plethora of books to the Abu Dhabi Ladies Club (ADLC) seeing the construction of the first dedicated sports library in the UAE, the Fatima Bint Mubarak Sports Library.

A myriad of scientific, administrational and inspirational books in both Arabic and English are available.

The library has been designed to make information easy and accessible to the Abu Dhabi community, as the FBMA strives to increase the number of women practicing sports but also the number of women in the sports industry.

The library hosts a number of books on sports journalism, photography, marketing, sponsorship, physiology and more.

Commenting on the newly opened facility, Dr Omnyat Al Hajeri from FBMA said: “The launch of The Fatima Bint Mubarak Sports Library is a major step in the growth of FBMA, as the academy continues to thrive since its inception in 2010.

“This world-class facility has filled the gap in education in sport that once existed, providing fast and easily accessible material for our community.

“We are confident that the launch of the library will in turn become a catalyst for other ladies across the UAE to participate in sport, whether it be journalism, marketing, physiology or other areas; a new field of interest and expertise now awaits them.”

“It is with great pleasure to see this library open and we are all excited at FMBA, as we look forward to seeing how it will begin to enrich the lives of many women in sport from this day forward.”

As a non-profit organisation the FBMA dedicates the entirety of its work to growing and bettering the community.

With this in mind, the development of the FBMA library is another building block in the path of change and progress that the FBMA has taken.

The Fatima Bint Mubarak Sports Library will reside within the Abu Dhabi Ladies Club library and will be open to the Abu Dhabi community.

The books have been carefully selected by a team of specialists at the FBMA, launching with 800+ books.

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