What’s the biggest race you’ve ever entered? Does it even come close to matching up to the 3,700 entries posted for this year’s Garmin Barcelona Triathlon? Amongst the thousands of entries was the Kuwait Extreme Team. On their return to Kuwait, Men’s Passion met with two team members - Ahmed Al Majed of Extreme Sports, and our very own Raba’a Al-Hajery.
A few days after returning from Barcelona, the team is still full of the exhilaration of the event.
Even Ahmed, a relative veteran of around fifty triathlons, has stories to tell. And Raba’a, having completed her first event and in doing so became only the third Kuwaiti woman to do so, is already planning her next.
The first of the three (tri-) althletic (athlon) events is the swim. The conditions in Barcelona caught the team somewhat by surprise. “The water was SO cold!” laughed Ahmed. “The start wasn’t helped by the fact that we had to be ready to go even before the sun came up!”
The staggered start meant that Raba’a didn’t start until later in the morning, but nonetheless the swim is typically the most challenging of the three stages of the race.
“I was very happy with my speed for the swim”, commented Ahmed, who completed the 1,500m course in the Mediterranean Sea in good time.
With this being Raba’a’s first triathlon, Ahmed encouraged her to take things a little easier. Once assembled on the beach for the start of her 750m swim, she looked over her shoulder only to hundreds of fellow competitors behind her and ready to take her on in the sea. Discretion served Raba’a well, and wisely she let the experienced athletes off first, but followed in their wake to complete her course in a creditable time.
“I’d been following a tough training schedule for three months prior to the event”, explained Raba’a. “I thought I was pretty fit before, but Ahmed set me strict guidelines for what I had to do on a daily basis. It was hard on some days, but without sticking to it I would not have completed the course today”.
The cycling leg came next - 40km for Ahmed, and 20km for Raba’a. They are both experience road racers, and the leg should have proved easy for both. However, Ahmed’s tire suffered a rare puncture which resulted in a few minutes lost whilst changing the tube.
“I enjoyed the ride”, Raba’a said, and was able to make up a lot of places over people who had finished ahead of me in the swim”.
A 10km run for Ahmed and 5km for Raba’a was the final leg of the event. Easy enough distances on their own, but not quite so when it comes after a cold swim and tough cycle ride.
Regardless, for them both, and for the rest of the Kuwait Extreme Team - Zaid Al Rifai (who you may know better for being the first Kuwaiti to conquer Mount Everest), Elena Mastrota and Andy Hariman, the real satisfaction comes from testing oneself and proving to no-one other than yourself that you are good enough.
“Looking back on it, it was a great experience”, said Raba’a. “Although immediately when I finished I was so angry with Ahmed for having let me put myself through it all! It was exhausting!” she added, now laughing.
Pretty soon though, all the athletes recovered and are ready to plan their next race.
“The support we always get from Kuwait is amazing”, they both said. “There is always a lot of personal support, as well as Facebook fan pages, emails, and great support from our sponsors, including Extreme Sports and PH7 Publishing House”.
As each season moves by, there is growing interest from within Kuwait towards entering triathlons. Prior to competing in Barcelona, Raba’a met with Kuwait’s first female triathlete - Ghada Hussein.
Ghada began competing in several years ago at a time when Kuwaiti men weren’t interested in entering such events.
“It was always a great experience”, Ghada told Raba’a, “I remember one particular event which had been organised by the military. Lots of tough looking guys and serious faces. I turned up”, it is worth pointing out here that Ghada is pleasingly feminine and doesn’t immediately strike one as being ready to go up against military types in any sort of competition, “and the look on their faces was one of amusement”. Ghada’s preparation, then as now, had been immaculate and she put many men to shame on that day whilst at the same time earned considerable respect for herself.
Ghada’s inspiration and motivation for Raba’a proved invaluable, and without a doubt there will be an event where they compete together for the first time.
Ahmed and Raba’a will both heed one of Ghada’s lessons learned quite early. “Always compete somewhere warm. It’s no fun getting in to icy water, then riding a bike through cold streets whilst soaking wet!”
Ghada’s next triathlon will be in New York in 2010.
Ahmed, Raba’a, and the rest of the Kuwait Extreme Team are in the process of finalising their schedule for next year. We’ll keep you up to date with their progress.
Inspired by her success at the Barcelona Garmin Triathlon, Raba’a has her sights now set on an Olympic distance event, and building up to a full Ironman distance. Her ambition being to become the Gulf’s first female Ironman competitor. There’s never been any doubt that she has the ability, and anyone who talks to her since completing Barcelona will see the ambition burning in her eyes.
To find out more about the Kuwait Extreme Team, or competing in a triathlon, contact email@example.com
First Published in Men's Passion Issue #17 November 2009