After flying the UAE flag with pride at this summer’s Games in Rio, three of the country's favourite Olympians are ready to take on a new challenge and participate for the first time as a relay team at the ITU World Triathlon Abu Dhabi on 3 and 4 March at the UAE capital's signature sporting venue, Yas Island. Nada Al Bedwawi, Ayesha Al Balooshi and Yousif Mirza are hoping to inspire like-minded Emiratis to follow in their footsteps and tackle the multi-discipline sport.
In a bid to encourage their followers in the UAE to follow-suit, national heroes - swimmer and UAE flag-bearer Nada Al Bedwawi, weightlifter Ayesha Al Balooshi and cyclist Yousif Mirza - have signed-up to complete their first triathlon together as a relay team. The team, who are a true inspiration to many young hopefuls, will take to the start line, along with thousands of first-timers, serious amateurs and seasoned triathletes, this March.
Nada Al Bedwawi, who has been fascinated with triathlon in recent years, started swimming at the age of four and went on to participate in her first championship in the 2015 World Aquatics Championship in Kazan. "Swimming is my passion and I've immensely enjoyed it for as long as I can remember," said the UAE's first female Olympic swimmer, who is blazing a trail for future swimmers in the country. "I've always liked a challenge and triathlon has been a sport I have been very keen to try out for a while now for many reasons, but most importantly because it features a swim leg."
"Also, since my return from Rio I've had a growing urge to help, in any way that I can, encourage UAE's youth to get active, try different sports and, most importantly, have fun with it. The ITU World Triathlon Abu Dhabi not only gives first-timers the chance to participate by offering the Sprint distance, but there is also the option of doing it as a relay team as we are, which is the best part," said Al Bedwawi.
Joining Al Bedwawi for a triathlon experience like no other is UAE's top female weightlifter, Ayesha Al Balooshi, who has signed up to do the run leg. "I love all sports! I've done ballet, handball, football and endurance sports such as running. I then fell in love with weightlifting in 2009 and never looked back."
Twenty-four year old Ayesha is on a mission to introduce more women to sports and by setting an example she is hoping more Emirati women will join forces with her. "I would strongly recommend doing a triathlon to everyone, even if they've never participated in any sport in the past. Triathlon is an achievable challenge that helps you push yourself, test your limits and see what you're capable of. If I've learnt anything from my journey to Rio it is to push myself. You'd be surprised what you can accomplish by doing that," added Al Balooshi who has won 13 gold medals, six silvers and four bronze in regional championships.
Yousif Mirza, UAE's Olympic cyclist who made his debut in the 2016 Abu Dhabi Tour in October, joins the team for the March triathlon spectacle on Yas Island. The 28-year-old, who first started cycling at the age of nine, is delighted to be participating in his first ITU World Triathlon Abu Dhabi. "I'd never turn down the opportunity to cycle around Yas Island. One of the most enjoyable things about cycling is the course and I couldn't ask for a more beautiful course to do my first triathlon," said the four-time national champion who won UAE’s first medal in the Asian Cycling Championships last year.
Mirza went on to add: "Participating as part of a relay team with Nada and Ayesha was a no brainer for me; I jumped right into it. Participating in a world-class triathlon such as this alongside Olympians, World Champions and the best triathletes out there, will definitely teach me a few things and add to my training."
For the first time a top-tier international triathlon will take participants around the whole of Yas Island giving them the experience of a lifetime as they enjoy breath-taking views of magnificent landmarks, including the prestigious Yas Marina Circuit, home of the Formula 1TM Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. The two-day event will see close to 3,500 people descend on the island on 3 and 4 March, including 130 of the world’s top male and female triathletes. The event hosts an amateur race with a variety of course options to suit a range of abilities: Sprint (750m swim, 20km cycle, 5km run), Olympic (1500m swim, 40km cycle, 10km run) and Maxi (1500m swim, 80km cycle, 20km run). All options can also be completed as a team relay allowing each participant to select the discipline they are most comfortable with.
Online registrations for the 2017 ITU World Triathlon Abu Dhabi are now open to the public via the race website, AbuDhabi.Triathlon.org/Enter. Starting from just AED 450 for adults and AED 60 for children, race spots are expected to be snapped-up quickly by keen triathletes and first-timers alike.