Nader

 
You could say he’s the fastest ‘civilian’ in Lebanon for the 3 to 10K distances on track and road, and that he’s been known to win some races in longer distances even, like when he placed 3rd in the army’s cup last year for the 16K on track (the only civilian to ever do that, btw); or when he came in first in that nice stroll in the desert, near Abu Dhabi that Red Bull likes to think of as the ‘Thoughest Challenge in the Middle East’, wearing road running shoes on an unforgiving terrain, to top it all. This, and many others races won, just go to prove that Nader is heading, at a fast and steady pace to the 2020 Olympics. 

Five years are not that long of a period to train in the best kind of conditions, to qualify for Tokyo. For the time being Nader is training the best he can, and the members of the Inter Lebanon Club he joined are doing whatever they can to support him and find him sponsors. Lebanese runner and recordwoman, Pia Nehme is coaching him all the way from Canada, and Nader is training twice a day, now that he’s graduated from College and just before he takes on his new part time job managing young jewelry designers from all over the world. A cool business experience, to be sure, but something that’s gonna keep him from running more, and keep him in Beirut, when he should be training in altitude for substantial periods of time. Nader in Arabic means rare and therefore precious, which is perhaps why he ended up taking that part-time job in a new project for young jewelry designers who with precious stones, and precious metals. For my money, I would rather see him as a full time athlete and future Olympic athlete. If he has to deal in precious metals, let him dream, at least for a while, of those round discs that officials put around the neck of three people at one point in time, that are made of bronze, silver or gold. 

Nader would hopefully qualify for the Olympics. His times are nearly there, and he’s training hard enough, mostly by himself. No one here can match his pace, except for the army athletes. Ideally Nader should also be training at high altitude in order to boost oxygen-carrying red blood cells. Nader should be replacing his training shoes every month. Qualifying for the Olympics is such a big deal. Meeting all those athletes from around the world, would be a dream come true. No one can ever hope to be beat the Kenyan athletes from the Kalenji tribe, for they were born to win these long distances,  but Nader should definitely be among those lucky few Lebanese who get selected for Tokyo in 2020, and we as a country should learn to stand by our athletes more than what we are doing, and for that we should start by attending more athletic events. 

Seeing Nader run on track, seeing him break away from the pack, and then seeing catch up with those last runners, and then all the rest, is definitely a mystical experience, as if Nader like Mercury had put wings on his feet. Nader and all our Olympics qualifyiers will hopefully carry a message to the gods of the track and field and the other Olympic sports who will gather in Tokyo in five year’s time. Let us think hard about what that message should be.

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Alma


Sometimes she would sneak out, when the night was darkest, before dawn, with her Phantom bike over her shoulder, going down two flights of stairs, and then ride it along the Bosphorous, for as long and as fast as she could before the rising sun caught up with her. She would then stop and turn towards the morning light to fill her heart with radiant energy. Then she would ride her bike home, savoring in her mind the moment she would come through the door, trying to make as little sound as she could, as her mom and sisters slept, while her dad was up making coffee, knowing that his little girl would be coming back from her morning ride.

Her dad named her Alma. Soul in Latin. I wonder if he did that for the simple fact that women are in a way the soul of World. I would like to think so, and come to the understanding that until the World accepts this truth the World will remain soulless. Alma’s family had moved to Turkey when she was ten, as the last chapter of Lebanon’s Civil War raged on. They stayed there for two years and a half, and then came back to Beirut. Alma never forgot those mornings she spent cycling for hours on end; in a way they connected with the earlier memories of green and the outdoors when they lived in London, where she grew up.

Alma’s family settled back in Beirut, and she spent her teens roller blading and studying martial arts. She has a black belt in Taekwondo, which came in handy when she took part shortly in LBC’s Gladiator show, and won a battle. She also found the time to graduate in Political Science with a Business major, and this also came in handy when she opened her own fitness center in Tallet el Khayat. Alma fell in love of late with Capoeira, the modesty and generosity of the people who practice it.

In 2008, Alma ran her first marathon, with a very decent time, although she had no special training for long distance running. She took part in several marathons and half marathons, and got on the podium in many of them. She always runs for charity, and last year she ran the Beirut Marathon for Brave Heart.  She’ll stay in her country for as long as she can, and if this proves overbearing at one point in time, then Alma, as many others, will leave. If that were to happen, I’d definitely feel this place would be all the more soulless.

Ramy

 
In the late Summer of 2014, Ramy was chilling on a beach, listening to Bob Marley, and taking a well deserved break from all the training and past races. The phone rings: the mission Red Bull Lebanon gave Ramy —who recently became a Red Bull athlete, a lifelong dream— was simple enough to state, and all the more daunting to accomplish: «You’ve got two months to get ready. Assemble your team to win the Race.» The race he was meant to win was ‘The Sultan of the Desert‘ race; a rather unfortunate title for a race in the U.A.E., but more conveniently, and quite aptly  also named ‘The Hardest Race in All the Middle East’.

Ramy gets on the phone, and calls two buddies of his: mountaineering athlete Lindos Daou, and boy wonder mid distance track and field runner Nader Jaber who had Just started making heads turn in the national athletics community . Sure enough, after two months of training, when they get to Al Ain, Abu Dhabi, they’re the talk of the town, and favored to win the Race. Understandably  enough the pressure on Ramy and his teammates was proportionate, the eve of the race. Nader won the trail running stage, an achievement by itself. Ramy took over, and was doing good time, his style was aggressive on a unforgiving and dangerous terrain. He had no fear, but neither did he have tubless tires, and the expected happened: he got a flat tire on Kilometer 3. 

So, there was Ramy asking one of the race marshall what could be done.

«There’s nothing I can do, you should go back!» 

Such was not an outcome Ramy could live with, ever. At that moment, Ramy notices one of the foreign TV cameramen filming him. The guy lowers his camera, and says : «Hey man, you look you’re about to do something crazy!»

«If you’re not crazy, you’re not Living» is something Ramy likes to say, and do. He turns to the young race Marshall again, as he’s taking the wheels off his bike: «Can I trust you?» . The boy nods. «I want you to hold on to that for me. I’ll pick them back after the race.» Ramy hands him his tires, and his all too precious bike shoes, and puts the bike’s carbon frame over his shoulder, and starts running barefoot the 12 kilometers standing in his way and the finish line. 

When I interviewed him, some months ago, Ramy told me that although he had accidents in practically every race —like when another biker passed him on the right, and put him in a ditch, during last year’s Aix-en-Provence IRONMAN 70.3 from hell, yet Ramy still manages to finish 44 in his age group— none of the accidents ever gets him down. Maybe its because the guy has Faith, and truly believes that the things Life is throwing at him are by Design, as some kind of test of his mettle; or maybe because Ramy believes that the ones who win straight up, no matter how strongly they believe they’ll go down in History, are barely remembered beyond a week or so, “whereas the ones whose race tells a story that connects to others, well those are the ones who really make History”, beyond the list of names paired with their individual chronographed timings. 

As TV crews and press photographers were shooting Ramy at high frame rates, as he ran with bloodied bare soles amid all those cyclists going past him, his two reasons for never giving up or feeling down in the face of adversity, came together in a quite photogenic allegorical way; as a kind of faitful barefoot pilgrim carrying a carbon frame in lieu of a wooden cross —a carbon frame whose aerodynamic shape was cutting through the flesh of his shoulder as a kind of improvised triathlete trinitarian stigmata, instead of cutting through the air as it was designed to do, since a greater Design was most probably at work— and carrying with it one hell of a story for the books, as one would say.

Beyond the half IronMan races here and there, that Ramy would be taking part in, and which he is starting to win for his age group, since Ramy is still 25, I would venture a guess that in five or so, Ramy would go beyond the halves and what not, and accross the Atlantic, to Kona. Whether he wins there, or just finishes the race, I’m betting he’ll have one hell of a story to tell.

Monique


It’s a classic story of girl meets boy… Monique, the youngest of six sisters goes to Canada for an undergrad in dietetics and meets boy, girl falls in love with boy, girl gets married, girl and boy return to Lebanon, girl has it in her mind to create a special dietetics program adapted for the country, girl opens a dietetics clinic in Furn el Chebbak, things work out, girl pays off her College debts, girl hires and trains young colleagues, opens another clinic, then another, and another… girl has kids (Jacques, Marc and Maria), but goes on doing her thing, writes a book, has her own radio and TV shows, and still finds time to run away with boy in regular outings.

I might have exaggerated a bit… about the classic bit, there’s nothing classic about Monique’s life, and yet it all seems so natural. Monique’s program for healthy living and healthy eating is in fact one of a kind. It’s a way of life, simple and so obvious: eat healthy, and take the stairs any time you get the chance. Obviously when Monique heard that there was a Beirut Marathon happening soon, she naturally made all her staff take part. They ran for child obesity. Yes, I almost forgot: Monique manages to find the time to visit schools and offer free evaluations for the children, and what she found was scary. Monique is now up against the whole pharmaceutical industry on top of the food industry who both deemed it vital to put sugar practically everywhere. No matter, Monique and her colleagues helped countless people lose weight and live ‘Quick n’ still keep Healthy’.

Last year, Monique came in second in a local Banks’ Women Entrepreneurs competition. She lost to a restaurant owner of all people, and not by much, mind you: 0.08 points. Now there’s this one women starting from scratch, and building a one of a kind method, a chain of clinics, and getting ready for franchising, all the while taking care of three kids, and still finding the time to exercise and enjoy the great outdoors with her husband Walid. Sure, Monique was kind of disappointed, but this never stopped her moving forward.

Monique is happy with how things are going. Her work, her way of life, is kind of like a marathon. Monique ran the Beirut Marathon’s women’s 10K challenge as she did in all the 10K runs, since the very beginning of the Beirut Marathon. At one point Maxime Chaaya dared her to do the ‘real’ thing, said 10K just don’t cut it. She said she’ll get there at her own rythm, and ticked that box last year 2014 when she ran the 42.195KM at the age of 42. She’ll run the 42K again this November just for the fun of it, but Sunday June 7, she was as happy as a clam rising, and ran the Women’s Race. Monique, and all the women who ran on that day, know very well that their race, their fight, well that’s something that’s going a take a lot of strength and determination to see it through to the end in this world we live in, and running the Beirut Marathon is only the beginning.

Nadine


Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer to hit women, accounting for a quarter of the cases. More than 20% of these cases could have nonetheless been prevented by being physically active, and maintaining a healthy weight. With early diagnosis, the remission rate is very good. Nadine was lucky enough to have beaten her breast cancer, but with a young son and a new born on your hands, it sure was hard to have nursed such a sickness in yourself, as a mom.

Nadine got through with a little help and support from her family and friends. At last year’s Women’s race, one of Nadine’s close friends had the idea to gather Nadine’s friends and run for her. The wonderful thing is that Nadine, still battling cancer, joined the group of fifty, and they all ran together. Nadine did decided to use proceeds to help out another friend, also battling cancer, but who was less fortunate. Nadine and her friends helped collect ten thousand dollars for that friend.

Nadine survived her breast cancer. She’s taking care of her two young boys, and taking some time off from the family business, until she fully recovers and gets back on her feet. Her passion for Art and photography will soon have her picking up her camera again. In the meantime she enjoys being in front of the camera, and being a #peacerunner in Lebanon, although she secretly admits she’d rather walk… a fast-paced power walk, definitely.

Sandra

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I took this shot one morning before even greeting Sandra; we’d only spoken on the phone. She wasn’treally  noticing me when I took it. Apart from finding it good, I did not make much of it, until after the run, when I finally sat down with Sandra, and she told me her story, and then I realized who this shot made me think of.

When Allan Wells won the Gold for the 100 meters in 1980, he dedicated his win to Eric Liddell who was one of the most loved athletes of all time, and inspired so many, even long after his death when the actor who was to play him in the movie ‘Chariots of Fire’ did such research into Eric Liddell’s life and work that he wrote one of Liddell’s sermons in the movie:

« I want to compare Faith to running in a race; it’s hard, it requires concentration and Will, Energy of Soul. You experience elation when the winner breaks the tape, but how long does that last? You go home. Maybe your dinner’s burnt. Maybe you haven’t got a job. So who am I to say: ‘Believe. Have Faith!’ In the face of Life’s realities? I would like to give you something more permanent, but I can only point the way. I have no formula for winning the race. Everyone runs in their own way. So, where does the power come from to see the race to the end?

«From within!

«Jesus said: “Behold! the Kingdom of God is within you. If, with all your heart, you truly seek me, you shall ever surely find me.”

«If you commit yourself to the love of Christ, then that is how you run a straight race.»

For you see, Liddell was a man of God, and when he ran, he glorified His name. When he ran, his head was thrown back and he faced upwards, towards the heavens. I felt that somehow Sandra would be doing the same thing when she ran. Faith drives Sandra in every aspect of her life; her family and friends; her art and jewelry design that she makes available to the less fortunate and the wealthy alike. 

Eric Liddell is famous for not running the 100m sprint, even though that was his favorite distance. On that day in 1924, Liddell ran for a longer distance, and won against the favorites. Since her Youth, Sandra was favored as raw material for a great athletic career, she nonetheless chose to pace herself: «I want to be able to run till I’m eighty!» she said, thinking of her coach who at first tried to push her in hard sprints, in anticipation of future competitions, but she took matters into her own hands and decided to find balance in her life.

Right before Eric Liddell’s famous run in 1924, a fellow rival from the competing American team, who did not make heed of his coach’s dismissal of Liddell as a favorite, handed Eric a piece of paper on which he had scribbled a small quote from the Book of Samuel:

They that honour me, I will honour.

Sandra will be running on June 7 in Byblos. I shall be there to catch a glimpse of when she would raise her head towards the sky and smile.

Nour

  

On a sunny day, not unlike this one, an angel asked two women going to visit a grave: «Why do you seek the living among the dead?». I’ve always wondered, what it would look like when angels descend from the heavens to tell us something. Last month I kind of got a glimpse of what such an event, if we were to witness it, would look like.  Obviously her name is Nour, purely and simply: ‘Light’. 

Nour was born into a family of runners, however Nour didn’t really run at first, at least not in the track and field sense of the word. She did however try her hand in any sport she could find, and excelled at many; there was volley ball at first, in 5th grade, then swimming, in 6th grade, aftet that, basket ball, in 7th grade, not to mention piano. Then one day Nour saw her brother come home with a bunch of medals. 

Was it the sheen of the sheen of the silver and gold that reminded her of something, or was it the respect and amiration of her brother’s trainers? Regardless, Nour joins the track and field team at 8th grade. She had already found a role model in Laura Fallaha, who was part of the AUB track and field team. It wasn’t long before Nour grabs the attention of coach Mhammad Tamim; it wasn’t really, when you manage to finish the 800m in 2:50 without ever training for it. After that, the Sky was the limit:  

In 2013, Nour goes to Amman and brings back bronze, silver and gold; seven medals from the seven events she competed in. And last year, Nour ran the National Cross-Country championship, and got the silver. This year Nour decided that running will be her life goal. She train three to four times a week. Some day she’ll go for the full marathon in Beirut, and later on become a triathlete, maybe. In the meantime, she has her sights set on the Asian Championship. 

Mystics from every religion believe that our spirits are like a precious metal, lost in the earth, waiting to find its way back to the source.  Whether or not angels exist somewhere or watch over us, I do believe that our children, our Youth, are the people who come the closest to what an angel would really be like. When Nour’s mom saw that photo, which reminded me in the first place of the story of an angel talking to us, to tell us something; she clearly understood why Nour chose running over the other sports, and remembered why she called her daughter that name, in the first place. 

The Bronze, the Silver, the Gold, that these young athletes, our Children, strive to attain should be telling us something important, beyond the respect and admiration they desire; it should be telling us what it is to be human, and what it is to be something a bit more.