Laura

  

Laura feels she was kind of average at Sports growing up, and although she’d won her first swimming competition at 15, she would still say «I’m kinda OK, I guess». She was kind of OK, until she got to her third year at the American University of Beirut. 

«The first two years of Architecture school are hell! You’ve barely time to train once a week, but I didn’t want to give up.»

Laura had her sights set on the National Championship in Swimming of 2012, so she did an intensive summer training camp, and got hooked on running as well. «They complete each other, I feel». That same year she did the October Nike Fun Run,  just for the ‘fun of it’. Laura hadn’t been training for running. Laura did her run. Very relaxed, a matter of fact. She even stopped along the way to drink water, and tie her laces. 

Laura reaches the Finish lines, and goes home. When she gets home, she got frantic phone calls: ‘where are you? You came in third!’ Laura was very dubious about that result: «My run was too chill to finish third. I mean I wasn’t pushing myself, or anything like that.» So Laura starts real track and field training at AUB, mainly for the upcoming Beirut Marathon 10K, in November of that year. Alain Bejjani, the track and field coach there, becomes her coach and together with Adel Yamout, her swimming coach, they help her organize her overloaded architecture student life. 

Laura runs the 10K, very relaxed as usual, and goes home as usual. And some time later, the phone rings, again. Laura came first of all University students. As usual, Laura’s very dubious. So, now Laura’s on a roll; she’s taking part all major inter-University meetings, and getting results, mostly silver or gold, or both for swimming and running: Istanbul, Belgium, Serbia, Rome. This month she’s travelling to Valencia, Spain, for a meeting in swimming, and in July she’s bound for the Universiadea, the University Olympics, in South Korea. 

«Make time for the things you want to do! That’d be my message to the Youth who want to take up Sports. That being said, I realize that studying at AUB helped me get organized, more than I would have done elsewhere», Laura admits. 

Laura’s graduating this year in Architecture. Last month she took part in the Duathlon, run, bike, run, and made the podium. She’s obviously headed for April’s Triathlon, and maybe some day, «the IronMan?» she ponders. Laura doesn’t real sponsors, she doesn’t even have her own bike yet. «I’ve got cool friends, though, helping me a lot». Laura borrows a friend’s bike, and also insisted on mentioning Ramy Nachar, a young triathlete friend, who’s been very supportive with pointers, and advice about training for the triathlon. 

I asked Laura about her gear, and it seems she switched from Nike Pegasus to the Asics Kayano 21. I really hope she finds real sponsors, and hope to shoot her while she’s doing the IronMan in the coming years. Laura will also be running the Beirut Marathon’s Women’s Race, beginning of June, in Byblos. Needless to say her mom is so proud of her, and of her younger brother and sister;  swimmers too. It has probably something to do with Marwan Matar, when as kids, they’d go swimming at Les Creneaux.  

As for what accounts for Laura’s running, well she still recalls when at age 3 she’d trot behind her dad as he jogged on the Corniche. I guess when you start young and you don’t give up, then things come easy when the time is right, which is why Laura was one of the cool kids’ coaches this year’s Beirut Marathon Youth Race. 

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Chloee

  

As others raced, or jumped, the two sisters walked. I had shot them ten days prior, in a previous meeting this month of March. Like two non-identical Gemini twins they arrive together, and race against one another. As they put their bib numbers on, they appear like two little swans; graceful, and serene. 

The gun goes off, and they start walking, and it’s not long before you forget about them on the field and focus on their other friends doing the high jump and the triple jump. They are there nonetheless, inching towards the finish line, one step at a time. Chloee is the youngest of the two. I’m sure she looks up to her older sister, as Sandy is proud of her younger sister. They’re both from Champville. 

This time around though, on March 24, Chloee wasn’t wearing the Joma Champville Athletisme top. She had a Nike black t-shirt on, with that famous Nike motto; only the ‘Just’ appeared however, in glowing fuchsia, as the rest was hidden by her bib number, the 37. 

I took several shots of Chloee in her black t-shirt, and one of them I liked most, and sent it to her, in black and white. She indeed looked like a little black swan. I added, joking, the comment on the facebook photo, about not being able to read the rest of the text on her t-shirt. Chloee wrote back: ‘Just Do It’. 

That day, Chloee in her black t-shirt, broke the Lebanese midgets’ record for the 3000m walking. It is definitely a wonderful feeling to be part of a somewhat low-key moment of History; these seemingly small kinds of accomplishements last forever for the people lucky enough to be there, and witness them. I was one of those lucky few, and I intend to shoot Chloee and her sister again as they walk side by side into Sports History, some day soon. 

Mila

It was raining that Sunday of November 2012. A girl was standing by herself with tears in her eyes waiting for her mother.  When the Beirut Marathon 5 Kilometer race started earlier that morning they were together, mother and daughter running side by side. The day just before that, they had also been shopping together for their running gear.

You see, Mila had decided out of the blue to run the 5 KM race with the Beirut Marathon. Not just to run mind you: «Mom, I’m gonna run the Marathon, and win! You’ll see.» Dima, Mila’s mom knew what her daughter was capable of, and that when she set her mind to do something, she did exactly that and never quit on anything she decided to do, ever.

Mila started taekwondo at age 3 with Master Noel Mkheiber, and today at age 11 she’s on her way to get the black belt.  Mila also plays tennis and skies, and she started to play guitar and wants to also learn to play piano. Yet with everything Mila’s doing, something made her want to take up running: not as a hobby but as a real competitive sports activity.

«When you run, you run for a cause!» that’s what Dima told her daughter who wanted to register in the last minute at the 2012 Beirut Marathon 5 Kilometer race. So, on the morning of the race they met the people form the Brave Heart Fund, that helps underprivileged children suffering from congenital heart disease, and Mila decided she would run for those children, and she imagined that they would run with her in the years to come.

On that Sunday of November 2012, Mila came in third in her age category.  Her mom had to let her go very early in the race, and Mila slipped through the crowds, past all the other runners and got to the finish line in 28min. She had just turned 9 and had run her first 5 Kilometer race!  Four months later, at the Beirut Marathon’s Women’s race Mila ran again, this time against kids as old as 17 and came in 3rd overall, covering the 5 Kilometer distance in 25 minutes.

Mila is 11 now. She’s been training regularly for a year and a half with Coach Mhammad Tabbara from the Elite Running Club. She feels good about today’s youth race “Got to run”: She got new running shoes for this day. Mila in turn drives her friends to excel and do better: «I’ll be your coach» she tells them, «you just need to do what I do, and we’ll get there together!»

I wonder whether Dima knew that her daughter had won when she caught up with her on that first race 3 years ago, and found her waiting in rain with tears in her eyes: did she know those were tears of joy. This Sunday, March 22, I shall look into Dima’s and Mila’s eyes and see a better future that only mothers and daughters, women like them, can bring… 

But wait, there’s more! This coming June Mila will be going with some of her schoolmates  from the College Protestant, and their coach Mr. Socier to represent Lebanon in the Women’s Soccer World Cup in Quebec  for the 11-13 Benjamin’s age group. I guess Mila’s not waiting for what the Future might bring; she’s making the Future one stride at a time.

 

Ghiya

One cannot but notice her:she stands apart from the lot.

I remember first seeing her on the green, before a juniors’ cross-country race start. You just stop and watch. There is this kind of assurance to her: that of heroes.

We tend to think of heroes as men, but seeing this 15 year old girl made me think of a hero too. I stood on the side waiting for the race to start. She looked at me, smiled, and gave me a thumbs-up. I took the shot.

That day she came second to a 17 year old national champion. She was the first of her age class of course. As a matter of fact, Ghiya had been regularly coming in first since she won  her age class distance on April 26, 2009, in a race organized by the Beirut Marathon Association. She had entered the competition along with her cousins and came in first without training and without breaking a sweat. It was just 1.5 kilometers and she was only 9. After that, she realized that this is what she was meant to do, and that she would go all the way.

She began real training with Dr Salah Al Farran, and a year later came in second in a cross-country race in Jordan. Ghiya kept that first certificate she got on that day of April 2009 as a reminder of how it all started, and where it will eventually take her. Every race finish line is the start of a new one in that ultimate race we call Life.

Ghiya never quit a race. When she runs she feels alive. You don’t quit on Life. She’ll never bail on her dreams, no matter what the conditions. She won’t quit and intends to reach the Olympics in 2020 and 2024.

I for one believe she can do it. Her coach definitely knows she’ll get there. He had told he she’d win that first race  and go on to win so many after it with real training and perseverance, and he knows Ghiya will never stop.

Ghyia is a true hero. Like many kids her age she’ll be racing this coming Sunday at the Yout Race in Dbayeh. We should all go and cheer them. Try and find her in the crowd, she’ll have her emerald Tyre Phoenicia Club on.  Try and look into her eyes and see for yourself what courage looks like. And if you missed her at the start line, don’t worry, for you’ll definitely notice her at the finish line; she’ll be among those first to reach it, if not the first.

 

Mohammad

On that day in late Spring of 2003, his leg was shaking on the starting block. Next to him was Zakaria, the reigning Lebanese seniors champion. Facing them: one hundred meters of eternity, one hundred meters of Immortality.

Mohammad was the champion for the junior’s category. He was scared of nothing, and no one. He knew he’d eventually beat Zakaria, but today was different: today was already ‘Now’, not just some wishful day yet to come.

‘Now’ is another animal altogether. ‘Now’ stays for ten seconds and some change. Deep down in our psyche, in our body, we know the difference between ‘One Day’ and ‘Now’; The difference between fiction and endless possibilities, and the reality of ‘Now’ and what really happens; what goes down in History.

All living things feel the ‘Now’; racing horses trapped in the starting blocks, beating the gate, waiting to spring out at the speed of light! And it so happens that Mohammad’s leg shaking wasn’t actually fear or apprehension as he thought; it was that same animal restlessness his body knew all too well, for when it heard the gun, Mohammed realized that he was heading down the track with no one in his peripheral vision.

On that day in 2003, as a junior he did not beat the seniors’ 10.74 second record; he’d just won the race with a time of 10.76 seconds. Any junior would be happy with that, but in that 2003 Spring he got his time down to 10.75 and set a new Juniors’ record. That wasn’t the end of it though, because in the Summer of 2003 on his third meeting with Zakaria, there was a new Seniors’ Record: Mohammad ran one hundred meters in 10.59 seconds. He blasted past the seniors’ record. He was still a junior, but it did not matter. He was a champion now.

You might say that was then, and this is now, and that after his injury that very year he went to the World Championship in Paris but couldn’t race. Nine years later, Mohammad could still run a hundred meters in 10.59 seconds. To this day, the record still stands. Mohammad also holds the 6 meter indoor for juniors record of  7.08 seconds, and the same category’s senior record of 6.95 seconds.  he also holds the 100 meter youth record at 10.89 seconds, not to mention the record for the 200 meter juniors of 22.02 seconds and the 400 meters seniors record of 48.08 seconds.

Lebanon cannot afford to support Lebanese athletes. Mohammad could not go further or faster, after his unchecked and untreated injury, but that did not stop him. He recently joined Inter-Lebanon Road Running and Athletics Club as a coach, and helped train Greta Taslakian, the woman who holds pretty much every record from 100 meters and up, and she’s still on a roll.

And so, just like in the 100 meter relay race —for which Mohammad still holds the juniors’ and seniors’ record— Mohammad passed on the torch to the younger generations, but at 30 years of age, you should still train as hell to even dream of beating one of his times, for Mohammad’s Time is still Now!

Running for Melanie

On Women’s Day, Sunday March 8, I went up to Jamhour College to cover the cross-country race event. The men raced first. The Army won as usual.

Then came the women’s race. As they left the field to go uphill and into the woods, I got a few shots. It wasn’t until I got back home to process the photos that I realized that one of the runners had tears in her eyes.

The race was in memory of Melanie Freiha who had passed away not one month ago in a skiing accident.  I had the opportunity to talk to Corine, Melanie’s sister a few days prior because I wanted to take her portrait as a peace runner in the Beirut Marathon. When we finished shooting, I had asked her what she wanted to do when she grew up: «Medicine. I want to study Medicine, but I won’t do it here. I will leave this country as soon as I can.»

Krystel one of Melanie’s closest friends,  told me that she dedicated her run to her friend that day.  “None of her friends will ever forget her”.

 

Muntasser

 

He was born at the turn of the new millennium. At age 10, he started running with his dad on the waterfront in Tyre. One of his dad’s friends saw him run and asked to sign him up for UNIFIL’s 10k race in Naqoura.

His mom recalls being worried about him running that long of a distance at age 11. To her surprise, Muntasser won first place for his age category. This marked the start of numerous participations in races and Lebanese championships. Muntasser won every single time. On November 9 2014, Muntasser took part in the BDL Beirut Marathon 5K race and ranked third in the overall classification.

His mom had named him Muntasser for a very special reason. In Arabic, the name means ‘Victorious’. She wanted her son to feel like a winner when faced with Life’s adversities. “No matter what, a winner’s attitude will get you there” she says.

Muntasser doesn’t have the ideal regimen for training, and yet he wins. One can only Imagine what he could achieve if he had real sponsors to support his love for the sport of running and turn it to one solid career. The kid’s dream is to go to France and train with the best, and of course, to win..Win big for this country of ours.

I’m betting he will. After all, he is VICTORIOUS