Laure: I started with gymnastics as a kid because, as my mom told me, I had a lot of energy and was always climbing on things. So, she registered me in gymnastics and I kind of rolled into it – changing clubs and moving to higher levels. When I was in my last club, it turned out my coach was also the coach of the national team of Belgium.
Together with my male partner, I got selected to join that national team of Acrobatic Gymnastics. There we were intensively trained by two Ukrainian coaches and one Russian choreographer.
Laure: We had to train 28 hours a week, for a total of 10 training sessions. On Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday we had two training sessions: in the morning from 7:30am to 10:30am, then we would go to school, and after that we would train again from 4pm to 6:30pm. On Wednesday and Sunday, we had one 3-hour training session while on Saturday we were off.
Laure: I began going to boarding school because it was next to the gym. So, it was really easy to go in the morning to train and there was a school bus that brought us to-and-from school. After training, we would go back to boarding school to eat, study, and sleep.
Laure: I competed from the age of 13 till 17 – it was 3 full years of acrobatics and we did 3 major competitions. One was the European Championships (for juniors) which we won, then the World Championships (for seniors), and finally the World Games which took place in Colombia.
Laure: Acrobatic gymnastics isn’t in the Olympics yet. It’s slowly trying to make its way – this year it is part of the Youth Olympic Games and it was also part of the European Games. I really hope that one day it will be included in the Olympic program so more people can get to know the sport!
Laure: Yes, a lot of Cirque du Soleil performers come from this sport. Our training prepares us to do different types of disciplines such as flying acts, trapeze, and hand balancing to name a few.
Laure: After competing at the World Games in Colombia, my coach announced that my partner and I had been offered a contract by Cirque du Soleil. So, I joined when I was 17 and so far I have performed in three different shows.
Laure: I started together with my partner in the show Ovo doing a 1.5-year tour in Japan. When my contract finished, there was a long break ahead so I decided to start studying and try different things – I was looking for new challenges. After three weeks of being home, I accepted a 3-month contract for a temporary replacement in the show, Quidam.
Joining this show meant a lot to me because it was the first show I ever saw as a kid. As a child, I remember being amazed and impressed and I would never have dreamed I’d one day be a part of that show. After the contract I went back home and continued studying biochemistry at the university in Belgium. Between contracts I try to catch up as much as possible with my exams and practical work. Suddenly, I got a call from the casting department of Cirque du Soleil and I got the chance to rejoin the team I worked with in Quidam but this time in a different show called ‘Sep7imo Dia’. Now I perform two acts, banquine and handbalancing. The show is honouring an Argentinean rock group and is only touring in South and Central America.
Laure: At one point I will not be able to bend in half anymore… So, I am working on a back-up plan and chose something in sciences because I was good at it in high school. I looked at different options like medicine, bioengineering, pharmacy, etc. and, to me, the biochemistry program looked the most appealing. So, I made arrangements with the professors in Belgium to complete the 3-year bachelor’s degree and the 2-year master’s degree. So far I’ve almost completed 2 years of my bachelor.
Laure: I need to study on my own as I can’t attend the classes. I buy the books then I leave on tour, I study by myself, I take the exam in whichever country I am in, etc. I don’t take up the full course like normal students would do, because I don’t have enough time to both study and do a full-time job.
Laure: I really like working with the banquine guys because I grew up doing this discipline. I feel I have lots of room to grow, to try new things; because the guys are very strong they can throw me very high and teach me new things – and that’s what I really like about it.
Laure: It depends on your discipline – it’s hard to say. For example, handbalancing is really hard on the body because I’m putting a lot of pressure on my shoulders and my back. I would say banquine is easier because I don’t need to bend so much.
Laure: I plan to perform for a couple of years. But, I think the traveling situation would stop me from doing it longer because I would like to build a family. I know of a woman who has two kids and she is still performing with her husband; both of them are still travelling a lot and they are around 40 years old. There are a lot of performing artists who travel with their families but I don’t think I would want to do that; maybe I’ll change my mind but time will tell.
Laure: I live in Belgium and all of my family lives in Belgium too.
Laure: I am the only one. My whole family is active and into sports – my brothers and cousins like rafting, climbing, soccer, and volleyball. But, I’m the only one who is actually working in sports professionally. Everyone else in the family has gone to university.
Laure: Not on a regular basis– I don’t really have the time for it.
Laure: I like to travel and visit places; I mainly enjoy nature I am not so interested in architecture. I’d rather be in the mountains and see lakes, sinkholes, national parks, and be outside in nature.
Laure: In Guatemala, I hiked up the Acatenango volcano, which was one of the best experiences of my life. It was almost 4000 meters tall, and we drove up to a camp around half way up. After being dropped off, it took us 4-5 hours to reach the base camp where we slept overnight; from there we could see the eruptions of the volcano next to us. Then, we woke up at 4am and completed 2 more hours of climbing to reach the top and to watch the sunrise.
Laure: It was difficult to climb because of the small stones which you keep sliding on. But, I really liked the experience.
Laure: I’ve always wanted to go to New Zealand actually for a stupid reason: as a kid, I looked up the furthest place away from Belgium and it turned out to be New Zealand. And, I would really like to see the Northern Lights and ride dog sleds and stay in an ice hotel. Third, I would want to visit Africa and go on a safari!
Laure: When I was young in Belgium, I looked up to the Belgian team from the previous generation that did the same sport as me. My idols at the time were Julie Van Gelder en Menno Vanderghote.
Laure: I feel being on the national team for three years taught me a lot about life Those three years really shaped me into who I am now. So far that period has been the hardest in my life as we had a lot of trainings, a lot of school, and our coaches were really tough. At training every small mistake we would make meant we had to start the routine over again. We learned to be very disciplined and I had to be at a certain weight as well; so, even what I ate was strict.
I think that period taught me a lot of the discipline I need right now to study at university while working. It taught me to accept responsibility; I know what needs to be done and I know what I need to do to get it done.
Laure: I feel I really found what I love to do and am very passionate about it. I think that passion helped me through the challenges I have faced, for example an injury. If you really love what you do, you’ll find the motivation to get through it and continue to work towards your goals.
Follow Laure on Instagram @laure_dp
Feature photo credit: Julio Lopez
Adventurer, ub-cool founder, yoga, Muay Thai and running fan, epilepsy survivor, mother of 2. Medina believes that life is too short to be ordinary…, and that we should seek out adventures!
“I’m blind, blinded with possibilities” – Hein Wagner Dear Explorer, Would you drive a car at 322 km/hour? Are you a speed junky who loves such thrills? But, would you still attempt this speed if you were… blind? Born without sight, South African native Hein Wagner defied all odds when he broke the world-blind-land-speed record driving down a runway – not once but twice! A true inspiration to all Hein, despite being unable to see one foot in front of him, completes Ironman competitions, participates in cycling races, sails yachts across oceans, and runs marathons. In fact, he even dared to take on and complete the incredibly difficult Antarctic Ice Marathon, of which the harsh South Pole conditions are too daunting for most! After speaking to Hein via Skype, we learned what motivates him and what his next big challenge will be – flying a jumbo plane! His story moved our team so much that we believe if you ever doubt your ability and consider giving up, think of Hein Wagner and his incredible perseverance; use his example as inspiration to conquer every obstacle you face. Born in the Dark Originally from Cape Town, from the age of 5, Hein spent 12 years away from home in a special-needs school 100km north of the city. Being away from home for such a long period was challenging but he didn’t allow it to get him down. He completed computer training courses after school and worked in the IT industry; after 12 years, he ended his IT career as an international sales manager for a South African IT company. You climb mountains, compete in cycling races, and drive cars but what was your first adventure? Hein Wagner: My first real adventure was coming to school because I had to get to know a new environment. Later, during my teenage years, I climbed Table Mountain 6 times. I climbed it 6 times not because I was a natural-born adventurer, but rather because I just wanted to get an idea of what this picture-perfect-postcard view people always talk about actually looks like. I realize that my picture of Table Mountain is probably different from yours – but I’ve also learned that it doesn’t matter. What happened in that process is that I completely fell in love with the outdoors and nature – for example, the texture of a flower between my fingers. I made a deal back then that when I find a real job, I’m going to go out into nature and re-energize and revitalize my soul to be ready for the challenges in my life. This sparked off a sense of adventure for me. What do you do now since leaving the IT industry? Hein Wagner: I’ve spent the last 14 years going around the world telling my story; my main purpose is to inspire people to achieve their dreams. It has been so rewarding working with different people around the world. Hein at Lion’s Head in South Africa Adventures & Accomplishments Hein has a lengthy list of accomplishments of which some are listed below: completed the Absa Cape Epic ran the Antarctica Marathon ran the Two Oceans Marathons ran the New York Marathon completed an Ironman competition competed in the World Triathlon Series in Cape Town finished several Cape Town Cycle Tours tackled the white waters of the Zambezi River climbed the ten highest mountains in the Western Cape completed the Cape to Rio Yacht Race holds the World Blind Land Speed Record at 322.52 km/h Cycling, Swimming, Running, and Sailing When you cycle, do you cycle in tandem? Hein Wagner: For races, I ride tandem – yes. While swimming, my guide ties a rope around my chest so I can feel the change of direction. When I run, we use a little tether on arm to let me know how far behind I am; but, I can also hear the footfall and sometimes can follow that. You sailed across the Atlantic at the age of 19 in the Cape-to-Rio Yacht Race – what inspired you to go after this challenge? Hein Wagner: On the way to a job interview in South Africa, I bumped into a friend who told me about the race. Before the selection process, I crawled along the boat to learn every inch with my fingers – including the ropes, the knots, etc.; this worked because I was selected. Sadly, a month before the sail, our skipper drowned and the replacement was a deaf individual. So, we ended up as a team of 3 blind guys and 1 deaf skipper. But, somehow, we managed to do it. We departed from Cape Town and then 2.5 weeks in the ocean, half way to Rio, 1000 nautical miles to land, 4km of water beneath you – that’s when you realize how small you are in this incredible world you live in. This was a light bulb moment when I realized that if I can bring myself to accomplish this, then I can pretty much achieve anything in life that I put my mind to. The adventure inspired me to reach higher, raise the bar, and do more. Driving Blind at 322 km/h Growing up with a father in the car industry, Hein was used to having cars in their driveway and this inspired his interest in racing cars. He set the world-blind-land speed record at 270 km/h at the age of 25. After this, another blind person broke the record so Hein went back to reclaim his title; but, this time, he reached 320km/h. You broke the world-blind-land-speed record not once but twice. Was the road straight? Hein Wagner: It was a runway – in fact, it was the longest runway in the Southern hemisphere. We needed a lot of room to stop. Please explain to us how you managed to drive the car. Hein Wagner: I had a sighted person in the passenger seat next to me during the drive. We divided the runway into 9 sectors from left to right where 5 is the middle; if I went slightly to the right, the passenger would start calling numbers above 5, and if I went left, he’d call numbers below 5. So, I basically had to stay on 5 – but, at 322km/h, a small adjustment is a lot. At that ridiculously fast speed, it takes a brave man to willingly jump into the passenger seat. If you had a chance to repeat this, would you do it again? Hein Wagner: I’m not sure. Perhaps, the next level would be to do it in an electrical car. But, I’m a little more responsible these days with my daughter being two-and-a-half years old. So, I shouldn’t race but, having said that, the adventures I do are to benefit a local organization that helps the blind – the Pioneer School. Biggest Achievement With such an impressive list of accomplishments, what do you consider to be your biggest achievement in life? Hein Wagner: My biggest achieve in life was accepting my blindness unconditionally. That was harder for me than all of the epic marathons, Ironmans, and fast-car races combined. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. When I did this years ago, I stopped contemplating the alternative all the time. Once I stopped doing that, I had the capacity to take on new things and I also realized that I could use what I have to inspire people. For me, it’s twofold: accepting my blindness is the greatest thing I’ve achieved and the spin-off is that it’s allowed me to inspire people that the impossible is in fact possible. What’s Next? What is your next challenge? Hein Wagner: I have a huge ambition to pilot a jumbo jet from London to Amsterdam – or any major city – and in doing so raise 1 million pounds for the organization I support. How we will accomplish this is by bringing on partners and to sell tickets to individuals who will join me on the flight; this will be the first attempt of a jumbo plane being piloted by a blind person. It’s an ambitious goal but in the next two years we believe it will come to fruition. The watch that Hein uses Pioneer School for Learners with Visual Barriers Can you tell us more about the organization that you support? Hein Wagner: This organization was founded in 1881 and is now 137 years old. It started as a school for deaf children and blind children, and back in the 1980s I also attended the school. Besides running a school that covers all years of the school system, they also create jobs for blind people who cannot work in the open labour market because they might have multiple disabilities. Their main focus is to help blind people live independently by re-skilling them. The Pioneer School also assists people who go blind later in life helping them with basic orientation, to walk with a cane, computer training, how to check emails, etc. We draw students from all over the southern part of Africa because there are very few of these organizations and the level of the skill of these teachers is just phenomenal. In what way do you support the Pioneer School? Hein Wagner: My focus is to help them raise funds to make this training available to people who cannot afford it. Take myself – if it wasn’t for my parents sending me to this school, I don’t think I would have been as successful as I am in life. I have been supporting this school in one way or the other ever since I left, because I so believe in what they do. Favourites and Fears What is your favourite sport? I know you do a lot of sports but do you have a particular one you like most? Hein Wagner: Yes – I really enjoy long-distance running. One of the reasons I run international city marathons is because you get, as a blind person, to experience the city. I can go on an open-air-bus tour and listen to the audio to visit the sites, but for me it doesn’t paint the picture; however, if I run the streets of New York and through its suburbs, I get a feel of the people and connect to the city. What’s amazing about the Hong Kong Marathon is that you run along the bridges of the city where people are not allowed to walk – it’s such a privilege. I also love doing triathlons because it’s multi discipline but running is definitely my favourite because I get to relax a lot. Do you have any fears? Hein Wagner: I do, but fear is a simple thing. For example, to walk to a shop with my white stick, I need to cross a fairly busy road which requires waiting for the light to change and listening to the flow of the traffic. Sometimes there is fear involved because you don’t want to end up under a truck; so, you have to rely on your hearing. In a way, that fear is so important because what it does is avoid potential catastrophes and risks. I don’t think fear is a bad thing, but I’ve never allowed it to run my life. I think it’s a necessary thing. If you ignore it, then you’re making big mistakes. What was the craziest thing you’ve ever done? Hein Wagner: It’s difficult to say… perhaps the 8-day mountain cycle race: Absa Cape Epic. I wasn’t supposed to finish that race. Whether you can see or if you’re blind, you have to be extremely fit to finish the race because it’s really tough. It’s the craziest thing I’ve done and, against all odds, we finished well – we were only looking for a finish but instead we placed in the top 50%. Hein’s Inspirational Message Your daughter, India, is two-and-half years old. What message will you teach her so she knows that no matter what happens, she should never give up? Hein Wagner: For me, it starts with kindness, generosity, and respect – these are the qualities I learned from my parents. Kindness goes a long way – even just a random act of kindness. Treat people with respect no matter who they are and where they come from. These are the qualities that can make the world a better place. Learn more about Hein Wagner on his website. Follow him on social media: Twitter and Facebook. . Rakhi ChuExplorer, writer, and chief editor with a passion to travel the world, delve into history, and just write write write! Three continents later, this Canadian lives in Dubai. Recent Adventure: Jordan – Jerash, Petra, Wadi Rum, and the Dead Sea. Bucket List: Caves – Hang Son Doong (Vietnam) and Krubera (Georgia).
Dear Explorer, Follow three courageous women LIVE as they walk over 800km across the Empty Quarter Desert in Oman for their “Her Faces of Change” expedition. Watch this space for daily updates on their progress over this month! Her Faces of Change Expedition Delivering a first for female exploration, this expedition will see three women walk the length of Oman’s Rub’ al Khali desert. It’ll take the women approximately one month to complete. The expedition endeavours to understand women’s lives and relationships in Oman under the peaceful leadership of Sultan Qaboos. To encourage learning, understanding, acceptance and respect for our genders, cultural differences, and identities. The women feel that if they utilize their strengths and learn from their weaknesses, then men, women and nations can become all prevailing. We are better together. The team: Janey McGill, Atheer Al Sabri, and Baida Al Zadjali. Learn more about the women and the expedition in this article: Would You Walk 800km Across the Empty Quarter Desert? LIVE Updates Watch this space for live updates, photos, and location! Total distance covered: 785 km Last updated at: 8:35 am GST / 18th January 2019 ———————– 18th January: Day 28 8:35am: We are done! 785km and we reached Ibri ! 17th January: Day 27 1pm: Atheer: Finally in my element rocky hills and wadis towards Ibri 😁 16th January: Day 26 4pm: We hit 700 km! 9pm: Atheer: A day filled with cute camels and one of the most beautiful sunsets. All the best to all who are running the Muscat Marathon. No excuses, I want to see personal records broken. http://www.ub-cool.com/magazine/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/WhatsApp-Video-2019-01-16-at-12.10.10-PM.mp4 15th January: Day 25 Atheer: When you think you have mastered the blister game but you still get one more. Looks like I’ll flip flop my way to Ibri fort. 14th January: Day 24 Atheer: Blessed with clouds and a cool breeze this afternoon. Made plans to arrive at Ibri Fort, our end point, on Friday morning & Muscat the same evening. 13th January: Day 23 2pm: We just hit 600km! 9pm: Atheer: Finally seeing town and street lights in the horizon. Getting closer to civilisation. Jane: Over 100 kms to go before we touchdown in Ibri. Baida said to me the other morning we can do anything if only we try. Never a truer word said. The last couple of days have been challenging across Um as Simmim (Um Sameem). A desolate but calming landscape. As the dunes disappeared from sight, step by step we walk towards civilisation with tales to tell from the Empty Quarter. 12th January: Day 22 Atheer: Navigating through the featureless Um Sameem (mother of poisons) was daunting, nothing but mirage. 11th January: Day 21 Atheer: Even though the weather was not ideal, the visit from our friends and supporters made our day. Thank you peeps. Abood Al Mabsali and friends came to visit us 10th January: Day 20 10am: Atheer: We just hit 500km! And, now, we have officially crossed over to Al- Dhahira governate 9pm: Jane: We have crossed the 500 km mark enjoying the stunning scenery in the sand dunes of Abu Altabool. Going up the enormous dunes and running down like kids. Atheer: Many milestones today: crossed over to Al-Dhahira, hit 500km, and finally able to climb a high dune after an injury from day one. A special shout out for our support crew Mark and Tariq, who believed in us & have been working relentlessly to get us to this point. Support Team | Mark Vause & Tariq Hameed Al-Zadjali 9th January: Day 19 Atheer: Waking up early and navigating around the dunes using the stars. Clear still sky every night so far. 8th January: Day 18 Atheer: Thank you to all who have stopped by and offered food and water. We arrived at camp with a heavier backpack than the mornings. 🤣🙏 7th January: Day 17 1pm: Atheer: We are half way through the expedition! Just crossed 400km! 9pm: Atheer: Reached the halfway point of our journey. Been generously hosted by Sahma Oil & Gas camp. Just in time to re-energize and buckle up for the northern dash to Ibri. 6th January: Day 16 Atheer: Another warm day, but still managed to hit the mileage intended. Thank you Salim and Ahmed Al-Kithiri for bringing us coconuts in the middle of the afternoon. http://www.ub-cool.com/magazine/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/WhatsApp-Video-2019-01-08-at-7.11.00-AM.mp4 5th January: Day 15 Atheer: Not one day has passed where we did not pick up trash. And, we are talking about one of the most remote areas in Oman. Jane: The Masan tribe offered us wonderful hospitality two nights ago. We had a testing couple of days through some vast dunes. The mornings began misty and the sun broke through around 1100 meaning we could get a good pace and cover the kms before the sun started scorching. Today, Ahmed & Salem Al Katheri came to find us. They met us at one of our locations with coconuts, banana and Pepsi for some power for the rest of the day. As if that wasn’t enough, they met us at our final stop and we were greeted with goat and rice for dinner. Once again the generosity and support from the Bedu is overwhelming and highly motivating. 4th January: Day 14 Tough terrain for walkers and cars today. Hit 300km and crossed over to Al-Wusta 💪. 3rd January: Day 13 A misty morning, vast low-lying dunes, and a heart-warming send off by Al-Manadir women. One word to describe this day: magical. 2nd January: Day 12 Atheer: Overwhelmed at the hospitality & generosity of Al-Manadir town 🙏. Rediscovering the values of our nation. 1st January: Day 11 Atheer: Discovering antiques & meeting bedouins who gifted us socks. Will reach Al-Manadir town tomorrow and we are hoping for a shower. Jane: Record breaker! Hit 25.67km! Not far now from the end of the first section of the Empty Quarter. Today we were greeted by Salim & Ahmed Al Khatheri. Seeing the poor state of our feet they presented us with brand new socks! Most grateful for that and their enthusiasm for our expedition. May the food tonight hit the spot and the sleep be restful for more conversations about putting the world to rights – Insha’Allah. 31st December: Day 10 Atheer: Cakey sabkhas making us miss the dunes. Celebrating NYE with little phone network, chapati & Nutella 😋 Wish all a beautiful new year! Jane: Happy New Year to all from the Empty Quarter. Over 200km done today. Hope of a shower at the oasis was dashed by the glorious smell of rotten eggs. Gobsmacked to see watermelons growing in the middle of the desert. The Empty Quarter sure is throwing up some weird and wonderful surprises. 30th December: Day 9 Atheer: We are expected to hit Shijaj tomorrow and Al-Mander in 3 days. We will not come down to Muqshin. New record, 25k. Desert becoming more barren as we head north. Jane: We hit a new record today! 25km! Nearly as quick as the lizards with scorpion tails. So, we celebrated… with tinned tuna and noodles… over a desert sunset. Tomorrow, we edge closer to civilisation & a resupply. We’d like to say it was perfectly planned for NYE but it’s a fluke. BBQ and chocolate to see in 2019 then the scorpions, spiders, snakes, and lizards are invited to the party but they’ll have to bring their own supplies. 29th December: Day 8 Atheer: Omanis, Brits and an American. So much to share with each other; our conversations as vast as this desert. Jane: Nearly left at 0600 this morning. A little too much time spent chasing moths dive bombing scorpions with a UV light the night before. The walking is monotonous but the views are spectacular. Baida, aka Chief Hakuna Matata, keeps us amused with her non-stop chattering. Atheer, without doubt, has become highly skilled at disturbing the film maker’s shots with her own. For the first time today we didn’t have a tin of tuna for lunch; so, no fighting over Mexican or Mediterranean tins. Atheer has become an artisan bread maker in the last couple of nights. So bread, Nutella, left over rice and, as with every meal, a sprinkling of sand. 28th December: Day 7 10am: Today, so far, it is a little cooler than yesterday. 9pm: Atheer: Enjoying the simplicity of the day, clears the mind. Guess what?.. I can make bread now. 27th December: Day 6 Atheer: Weather getting warmer in the afternoons and colder in the evenings. Hit the 30’s today and consuming more water. Jane: Today has been the most challenging yet. The sun was searing today and there was no sign of wind; we walked with scarves trailing from our hats in the hope that it would shade us. The vast plains between the dunes teem, unexpectedly, with insect life. Mammal life, though, is not quite as fortunate as we pass the carcasses of 3 camels. We all have to navigate through the dunes and change our route accordingly considering our fuel and water consumption. The dunes are a maze and everyday is a puzzle to work out the best route to take. We map check at each stop to ensure we reach our target. Team moral remains high and our individual nuances are becoming exposed in this extraordinarily beautiful desert that is Rub’al Khali. The best part of the day was walking together into this evening’s camp where our support team were waiting for us with a jerry can of water collected from a well for a wash down after the day’s efforts. Tiredness for all of us is kicking in. We surpassed our daily average of 20km. 26th December: Day 5 Hit 100km! Celebrated with a shower and more blister popping. Heading east now. 25th December: Day 4 Popped the 1st blister of many. Heading east soon. 24th December: Day 3 Chewed up the kilometers today – had a refreshing shower at the oasis and celebrated Christmas eve with jacket potatoes and beans. 23rd December: Day 2 16km covered. Blisters & a pulled muscle. Otherwise, early camp with a hearty meal. 22nd December: Day 1 7:40pm: Done 17k for our 1st day. Lot’s of green & cicadas for a desert. Settling in camp. 7:40am: We are starting to WALK! 21st December We reached our camp at Hashman! 20th December Planning and getting ready for the expedition from the coast in Salalah. Met up with our videographer as well. http://www.ub-cool.com/magazine/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/WhatsApp-Video-2018-12-20-at-3.35.58-PM.mp4 . 19th December Teamwork makes the dream work. Amazing effort from our team in the last couple of weeks. Looking forward to sharing tales from the desert with everyone! We departed Muscat and are en route down to Salalah by car today. 18th December Finalizing last-minute items, the team will head out likely on Friday 21st or Saturday 22nd December to begin our walk. Meet the team: Atheer Al Sabri, Janey McGill, and Baida Al Zadjali Rakhi ChuExplorer, writer, and chief editor with a passion to travel the world, delve into history, and just write write write! Three continents later, this Canadian lives in Dubai. Recent Adventure: Jordan – Jerash, Petra, Wadi Rum, and the Dead Sea. Bucket List: Caves – Hang Son Doong (Vietnam) and Krubera (Georgia).
Dear Explorer, Shielding their faces from the sand as they cross the deserts on camels is an image we’ve all seen in movies and black-and-white photographs of explorers. But, has that ever inspired you to attempt crossing a desert on foot? Three courageous women are attempting to walk 800km across the Oman’s Empty Quarter desert in about 35 days. We talked with these amazing women to learn more about their upcoming expedition called “Oman: Her Faces of Change.” Click here for LIVE updates on the expedition’s progress: texts, photos, and location! Oman: Her Faces of Change Tell us more about this incredible expedition you are planning. This expedition aims to deliver a first for female exploration: walking the length of Oman’s Rub’ al Khali desert. It endeavours to understand women’s lives and relationships in Oman under the peaceful leadership of Sultan Qaboos. When do you set out? December 2018 to January 2019 Why are you attempting this? To encourage learning, understanding, acceptance and respect for our genders, cultural differences, and identities. If we utilize our strengths and learn from our weaknesses, then men, women and nations can become all prevailing. We are better together. Will there be a support team with you? There will be a support team handling photography, carrying supplies, medic duties, driving, safety, and logistics. What is the exact route you’ll follow? We will walk from Al Hashman to Ibri. The Women Walking Across the Empty Quarter Janey McGill FRGS – Expedition Organizer Janey’s heart lies in the military where she spent four fulfilling years as a soldier with the Honourable Artillery Company. She has a diverse background in law, the arts, business, and property. Studying Geography at the University of Exeter developed her interest in gender studies and fieldwork, particularly within Middle Eastern cultures. On graduation, she went on to study law and qualified as a solicitor. In a twist of fate, Janey suffered a serious injury while training for a military horse race, the Royal Artillery Gold Cup. This halted her goal of transitioning from the Reserves to the Army Legal Service as an Officer. Overcoming this adversity and feeling a distinct lack of belonging outside of the military sparked her desire to challenge and push boundaries. Her military training, rehabilitation from serious injury, resilience, and drive to create a community legacy have all played a major role in shaping this expedition in Oman. How did you come up with the idea for this expedition? I read a book called The Phantom Major in which a team of SAS soldiers stranded in Africa in the 1940s had the choice to surrender to the Germans or walk 200 miles back to base. They opted to walk back with only a bottle of water and some fruits and nuts; they had to suck on pebbled to generate saliva and at one point stole supplies from the German. Incredibly, they made it back to camp in 8 days. It got me wondering: what was it about them that made them able to do that and sets them apart from other people? Also, I wanted to know what effect it would have on me if I did that too. I spoke with Mark Evans, who crossed the Empty Quarter in 2016 for ideas on how I can do it too, and that’s how it began. When did you start discussing the idea of organizing the expedition? Two and a half years ago. The Empty Quarter desert is in more than just Oman isn’t it? Yes, it spreads across Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Oman, and Yemen. We like the message behind Her Faces of Change – can you tell us more about what it means to you? A friend suggested that I were to do the expedition with Omani women, I would see this world but from an Omani point of view. So, this changed the whole direction and that’s how we have an Anglo-Omani female team heading out. I also think it’s really important that there’s a real women’s empowerment movement happening globally; but, at the same time, I think it can isolate men a little bit. I think our project gets men and women working together; our support team is comprised of several men. I think we, as a society, need to readdress the balance whereby we should all be working together supporting each other to achieve great things. Atheer Al Sabri This 27-year old Omani woman loves challenges and exploring the new. Right from a young age, she began travelling abroad with her family and now is a part time adventurer of the outdoors. When she is not outdoors, she’s working her day job as a general dentist and is also pursuing post graduate studies interested in health and wellbeing. Why did you join this expedition? In the past two years, I got into adventure and it has changed me a lot. Before this, I was a completely different person. I then met Jane and learned about this expedition and thought: “This is what I want to do – it will be one of my life goals.” So, I joined the expedition to change perceptions and break stereotypes as a young Arab woman and because I share the team’s drive to challenge our limits and connect with cultures. What do you think about the message behind Her Faces of Change? The message, Faces of Change, is just perfect in so many ways – personally, the changes I have gone through mentally; I really want to share that and inspire other young women and society that if you put your mind to something you can change yourself and people’s perspectives about you. How are you training for this expedition? In regards to fitness training, I’ve been active the past couple of years going on weekend hikes and working out several times a week in one of the following: crossfit, cycling, or yoga. Do you have any concerns about being in the desert for that long a period? I think this expedition will be mentally & emotionally challenging more than physically. Being away from family & friends, going through harsh featureless terrain, being away from the comforts of urban life for an extended period of time will take a toll after a while in the desert. So keep on discussing such things as a team, figure each others personality, we even did some team team bonding a month ago in order to be able to support each other during the expedition. Baida Al Zadjali With an engineering background, Baida has worked on construction sites all around the world. But, after suffering from stress-related migraines, she decided to set up a construction consultancy. In her personal life, she has always tried new sports and was introduced to hiking by a friend. Since then, she has travelled to Africa and the ‘Stans. Now Baida, which means desert, is eager to share with other in Oman her passion for fitness and the outdoors. On this occasion she takes on her greatest challenge, the Empty Quarter, on home ground. Why did you join the expedition? What does the Her Faces of Change message mean to you? I joined the expedition because I believe in the message of respect and understanding between different cultures, genders, and nations. It resonated deeply with my own values as well as the values of my country. How are you training for this expedition? I am following my regular training regime but have added a couple of sand dune hikes. I normally walk, hike, run, kayak, swim and also do strength and endurance training every week. Do you have any concerns about being in the desert for that long a period? My only concern is being away from what has in the past defined me as me: my environment, surroundings, family, friends, and work. The fact that I am going to be away from all of this for that long will be life changing. Sponsors Who is sponsoring the expedition? Metris Leadership, Wings World Quest, Petroleum Development Oman, Land Rover, ub-cool, Petrogas, Ministry of Sports Affairs, Ministry of Information, The Royal Oman Police, and Ministry of Defense. Track the Expedition LIVE! Follow the Faces of Change expedition with live tracking for updates from the 3 women as they cross the Empty Quarter! Link for LIVE Updates here> Follow on Social Media: Facebook: @herfacesofchange Instagram: @herfacesofchange . Rakhi ChuExplorer, writer, and chief editor with a passion to travel the world, delve into history, and just write write write! Three continents later, this Canadian lives in Dubai. Recent Adventure: Jordan – Jerash, Petra, Wadi Rum, and the Dead Sea. Bucket List: Caves – Hang Son Doong (Vietnam) and Krubera (Georgia).
Dear Explorer You are never too old to play in the mud! Recently we hustled a few good friends together on the promise of laughter and a lot of mud. We created a ub-cool team who took on the Tough Mudder event in Muscat to get muddy and show the crowd what team work is all about! What is Tough Mudder? In short, wading waist deep in mud and heaving your body over obstacles whilst offering a helping hand to your team mates – Sound like your kind of thing? If so, then Tough Mudder might be the kind of challenge you are looking for. Firstly, this is a team challenge – Not a race. It’s a set course of bad-ass obstacles incorporating plenty of mud-soaked mayhem. The name Tough Mudder should be quite self explanatory. This is is your chance to get outside your comfort zone, discover what you’re made of, and cross that finish line stronger than you started. Why do it in a team? You can’t do this alone. As these Tough Mudder challenges pop up all over the world they come with their signature obstacles designed to test your limits and challenge you and your team mates to work together to make sure that everyone crosses the finish line together. The Muscat Event As we lined up in our matching ub-cool t-shirts looking every bit a team; it was what was out on the course that was going to matter. Individually, we all have our strengths but this was a challenge of teamwork. Bounding over the obstacles the adrenaline was kicking in as we maneuvered the tricky challenges. Working as a team there were plenty of arm grabbing, foot ups, and encouraging shouts from the fellow ub-cool team. Some obstacles required a head for heights, an ability to climb, and other physical challenges but I think we can all agree that our team favourite from the event was… The Mud Pits! Wading waist deep in thick, brown sludgy mud it was enough to turn the stomach of many but the ub-cool team seemed to thrive on it. The cool mud was exactly what we needed on this hot day to cool us down. We soon started lathering each other from face to finger tip in the mud at much hilarity. As we exited the mud pit and began to run along the course again it felt like I had just added another 5kg to my body in the weight of mud. Despite the mud, the mess, and the struggle, it was an amazing event filled with motivational chanting, pats on the backs and wide toothy grins through mud-caked faces. This is our kind of day out! Every one of our team completed the challenge on this day with a huge smile on their face and probably a lot of mud caked into their skin… We couldn’t be more proud! Big thank you to the Tough Mudder Oman team for making our muddy dreams come true! You can follow them on Instagram & Facebook. Photo credit to Nigel Burn. Heather Duncan“Be fearless in pursuit of what sets your soul on fire” A wife, mother, adventurer and outdoors addict. My passions include scaling to the highest heights, cruising the ocean on my kayak and throwing myself from cliffs. Why? Because life is too short to be boring.
Dear Explorer, Another season of Wimbledon and the US Open has come to an end and it left us wondering: what does it take to become one of the ‘greats’? Ever wonder what the life of a tennis pro looks like? To enlighten us, we sat with Fatma Al Nabhani to find out more. This 27-year-old Omani tennis inspiration is the first female professional tennis player from the Middle East and has been competing internationally since she was the mere age of 9! Life as a Tennis Pro ub-cool: At what age did you pick up tennis as a sport? Fatma Al Nabhani: I started playing when I was 4 years old and I grew up in a tennis family. ub-cool: Who taught you to play tennis? Fatma Al Nabhani: My mom taught me the game along with my two elder brothers, who also compete for Oman and have achieved a lot for Oman. She’s been my coach since I was 15. ub-cool: How is it having a parent as a coach? We see other athletes like the Williams sisters with parents as their coach. Would you recommend it? Fatma Al Nabhani: Having a parent as a coach is tough because even if what they are telling you is correct, you are more likely to argue the point than if it came from an outsider. At the moment, she isn’t my coach but she still travels with me and gives her opinion. ub-cool: Would you say it was helpful to your career having grown up in a tennis family? Fatma Al Nabhani: The good thing is no one forced me to play the game. I grew up liking the sport watching my brothers playing and competing. I traveled with them for their competitions. So, I just fell in love with it. I started playing since then and started competing in tournaments when I was 9 years old; my first tournament was the West Asian Championship for under 13. Surprisingly, at the age of 9, I won two gold medals and two silver medals in the tournament. From there, I knew that I liked this, I will continue, I will compete, and become something – to see where it goes. After that, I won that tournament 4 years in a row – I played juniors and was top 30 in the world. And, then, I participated in the All Grand Slam Wimbledon, US Open, Australian Open, etc. ub-cool: At home, do you have a rule to not talk about tennis? Fatma Al Nabhani: Yes. At home we don’t talk about tennis – haha. ub-cool: You’ve put Oman on the map in the tennis world. Fatma Al Nabhani: Yes, I’m the first female tennis player from the Middle East. Tournaments ub-cool: What was your best world ranking, and where do you sit now? Fatma Al Nabhani: My best ranking in the pro circuit was 362 in singles and 240 in doubles; at the moment, my ranking has dropped down because I had an injury recently. I am coming back now playing more tournaments to improve my ranking. ub-cool: How many tournaments do you compete in every year? Fatma Al Nabhani: 24-26 tournaments a year. ub-cool: What’s your next tournament? Fatma Al Nabhani: I’m still deciding – either WTA Seoul Open in Korea or the 25K in Portugal. ub-cool: What would be your ultimate professional achievement? Fatma Al Nabhani: To be top 100 in the world and play the grand slams again in the women’s cycle. But, to do this, I would need an entire team and more support. ub-cool: Who are your favourite male and female tennis stars? Fatma Al Nabhani: Roger Federer. He’s a really nice player both on and off court. He’s very natural and real. As for female players, my all-time favourite would be Steffi Graff. Sponsors & Equipment ub-cool: Who is your main sponsor? Fatma Al Nabhani: For my kit, I wear Nike. ub-cool: What brand of racket do you use? Fatma Al Nabhani: Right now, I’m with Pacific. Training & Diet ub-cool: What’s your training schedule? How do you train? Fatma Al Nabhani: Pre-season schedule is running or a gym session in the morning, then tennis practice for 2 – 2.5 hours. I break for lunch and then practice again in the afternoon for another 2 – 2.5 hours. So, about 6 hours a day we practice tennis and fitness. ub-cool: What type of meal plan do you follow? Fatma Al Nabhani: As athletes, we know what we should and shouldn’t eat. Between practice, we eat things that can easily be digested. I don’t eat a lot of junk – I eat everything because you get to burn it. But, I have to balance and eat healthy. ub-cool: Where do you train? Fatma Al Nabhani: Usually, I’m based and train here in Oman. I think if I lived outside of Oman and trained there then I would have done much better because here in Oman it is a bit challenging. You don’t have many players to practice with. ub-cool: With whom do you practice? Fatma Al Nabhani: There are not many players, coaches, and tournaments to practice with here in Oman. I practice with someone from the tennis federation here in Oman, and also my brother in France. It’s a bit of a challenge but I can’t live outside of Oman because I get homesick really fast. I usually travel for 2-3 weeks and then come back home to refresh. ub-cool: Where are your brothers now? Fatma Al Nabhani: One brother is living in France and the other is finishing his PhD in the UK. Life Outside of Tennis ub-cool: What’s on your bucket list after you finish your career? Fatma Al Nabhani: Skydiving and to travel and actually explore places properly. I love nature but right now avoid activities that can cause an injury. ub-cool: What do you in your downtime? Fatma Al Nabhani: I love fishing. I’ve been fishing since I was a child – my dad used to take us all the time. Now we have our own boat and go fishing; we stay overnight at sea and camp on the islands as well. I like to go hiking in the wadis here in Oman. ub-cool: Other than tennis, is there another sport you really like? Fatma Al Nabhani: I love sports. Anytime the Olympics are taking place, I have to sit and watch gymnastics. Something interesting that I’d like to try is shooting; I realize I’m pretty good at shooting surprisingly. When I first tried archery, I hit the bullseye. Shooting is something I could do because it won’t affect my tennis the way squash would. ub-cool: You mentioned how much you love Oman and get homesick when away – what do you love doing Oman when you’re home? Fatma Al Nabhani: I love the food, the beach, being with the family and my friends – just to recover. Tennis is stressful so returning home allows me to forget everything. Photos from Fatma Al Nabhani – Follow her competitions on Instagram! Medina IlyassovaAdventurer, ub-cool founder, yoga, Muay Thai and running fan, epilepsy survivor, mother of 2. Medina believes that life is too short to be ordinary…, and that we should seek out adventures!
Dear Explorer, Whether or not you’re in Dubai, we can all be inspired by the exciting movement that just wrapped up: the Dubai Fitness Challenge 30×30! So, what is going on? 30 MINUTES. 30 DAYS From 26th October to 24th November, the Dubai Fitness Challenge had 40+ city-wide events and 3,000+ classes and activities available to the entire public. For FREE! Their aim was: We’re turning Dubai into the most active city in the world, and it all starts with you! Kite Beach in Dubai is one of the many locations offering awesome programs How cool is that? The ub-cool team hit the ground, checked out the events, and spoke with the people making this initiative a success. We caught up with ambassadors promoting the movement, trainers getting the crowds in shape, and businesses that provide healthy meal-prepped services to those who want to maintain their fitness goals. Ambassador – Manal Rostom Nike’s Running Coach & ub-cool friend, Manal Rostom is one of the Ambassadors of the 30×30 event. How does it feel representing the Dubai Fitness Challenge? I am honoured to be one of the faces of the DFC. It’s an honour and an absolute pleasure to be a part of the life-changing movement happening in Dubai, which is helping people to be the best version of themselves. Learn more about Manal’s amazing story from our January 2018 interview with her> Nike’s running coach, Manal Rostom, is one of the faces of the Dubai Fitness Challenge Photo Source: Manal Rostom Fitness Enthusiast – Lolla Todorovic Fitness addict and founding member of Team Mafi WiFi, Lolla told us why the Dubai Fitness Challenge is important to her. For me, 30×30 is the peak time of participation throughout the year. This is because it coincides with the world-wide pink October breast cancer awareness month. And, what could be a better time to inspire people to be active and at the same time support the noble cause?! So, you will see me and my Mafi WiFi teammates on the ground of each and every Obstacle Course Race, triathlon, and run in the city with my pink shirt on! A full house of yoga enthusiasts enjoying this free session in Dubai’s cool evening. Personal Training App – Amino We came across an awesome new App called Amino that brings personal trainers to you – just like Uber, but for fitness! We had to catch up Amino’s Founder & CEO, Anis Nasr, to find out more about their awesome business. The Amino team at DFC’s Jumeirah Lake Towers location We watched your training session in JLT earlier this week. Everyone was loving the workout! How does it feel training hundreds of people at this event? It was a fantastic experience! The crowd was full of energy and they were super engaged. We had a team of 5 trainers and they had their hands full the entire time. It was great to see the kids getting involved as well. There were funny moments when the kids would push their exhausted parents to continue working out with them. Overall, the village was a huge success and it’s a reflection of the positive impact of DFC on Dubai residents. We have more sessions coming up next weekend at the JLT and DIFC Villages and we can’t wait! For your team of personal trainers, what does it mean to participate in 30×30? Were you excited to be giving classes? I got in touch with the DFC organizers well in advance to book our workout timings. When I told the team that we’ll be participating, they got very excited. It’s a great opportunity to reach a broader audience and get them active. After all, our goal as a personal training company is to get Dubai residents fit and healthy. DFC helps us spread awareness and highlight the importance of regular exercise for health and wellbeing. An Amino personal trainer leading the crowd to fitness! What do you think about Dubai’s 30×30 initiative? This is our first time participating in the Dubai Fitness Challenge and it exceeded everyone’s expectations. Everywhere you look, people and companies are getting involved in various activities across Dubai. We had a firsthand experience at the JLT village which was very well organized, and the crowd was extremely enthusiastic. I think His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai, did a great job introducing this concept last year and it will only get bigger and better over the years. We hope the 30×30 challenge becomes a 30×365 challenge as residents begin to appreciate the value of exercise and incorporate it more into their lives. Please tell us more about your business, Amino App. I’d love to! Amino App is Dubai’s newest mobile app for on-demand personal training. Think Uber for personal trainers. We help you find, book and pay for your personal trainer in just a few clicks. We know Dubai life can get hectic. Balancing work, family and social commitments usually leaves residents with no time to exercise and stay fit. We are here to change that. Our goal is to make fitness simple, fun, and accessible. We recruited an amazing team of highly qualified and experienced trainers to make sure we cater to every client’s fitness goals. To book your workout, simply choose your workout, location, date & time and our trainers come to you. No equipment? No problem. Our trainers have everything they need. Bottom line, no excuses. Get active and get fit! Follow Amino on: FB @aminoapp.dxb Instagram FB @aminoapp.dxb Try the app! Download the Amino App from the Apple store here. Download the Amino App and find the personal trainer closest to you! Photo Source: Amino Meal-Prep Service – Feedz With everyone embracing an active lifestyle, it’s important to continue this enthusiasm after the Dubai Fitness Challenge is over. The issue often becomes eating healthy during a busy work week. So, we spoke to Steve Bwye, the CEO of a popular meal-prep company, Feedz, to learn more about what they do and their involvement in DFC Please tell us more about your business, Feedz. Feedz started off providing meal-prep and macros-controlled meal-plans to clients across Dubai and Abu Dhabi – and, now, we also do gourmet healthy meal-plans as well! Our delicious food is delivered straight to your door every morning. You’ll enjoy the meals throughout the day knowing that you’re sticking to your calorie-count and also eating nutrient-dense food-types. It’s convenience and taste, cooked, packaged and delivered for you! Try the numerous delicious options Feedz has to offer! Photo Source: Feedz How are you involved in the Dubai Fitness Challenge? One of our partners @sully_dxb and our Operations Manager @rambo_rebeldxb are helping with group training across Dubai and, also, offering discounts on our meal-plans to encourage a change in the foods people are eating. Eating healthy can now be super convenient with one of our meal-plans! What does it mean to participate in 30×30? By participating in 30×30, we are showing our support to getting more people in Dubai active and moving – but this is just the first step! There must now be a continuation of this enthusiasm and more important than exercise, is what you eat! We wanted to make eating healthy during your busy days as easy as possible because this really does change lives, and that means everything to us! Delicious meals from Feedz delivered right to your doorstep! Photo Source: Feedz Have you participated in the Dubai Fitness Challenge? Send us your photos to firstname.lastname@example.org to be featured! To find more details check out the Dubai Fitness Challenge. Feature Photo Credit: Amino Rakhi ChuExplorer, writer, and chief editor with a passion to travel the world, delve into history, and just write write write! Three continents later, this Canadian lives in Dubai. Recent Adventure: Jordan – Jerash, Petra, Wadi Rum, and the Dead Sea. Bucket List: Caves – Hang Son Doong (Vietnam) and Krubera (Georgia).
Dear Explorer, It’s an amazing thing when a hobby turns into a passion and you can turn that into being a success. That is exactly what 21-year old wakeboarding professional Omeir Saeed did. Incredibly, after trying the sport only a few years ago, today he is a sponsored athlete by Red Bull and Liquid Force! This week, we spoke to Omeir about his passion for wakeboarding! Becoming a Wakeboarding Athlete Hey Omeir, Thanks for taking the time to speak to us. Please tell us a bit about yourself. Omeir Saeed: My name is Omeir Saeed and I am from Abu Dhabi, where I am currently based. When did you realise you had a passion for wakeboarding and how did it begin? Omeir Saeed: I first started wakeboarding back in 2011 after a friend took me to the cable park for the first time and, after that, I was hooked. How did you train to be so successful in your sport? How often do you practice? Did you have a coach or did you learn by yourself? Omeir Saeed: I mostly learned knew tricks from watching videos. I concentrated mostly on wakeboarding at the cable park and I would practice every weekend. Related Post: Exclusive with Red Bull’s Extreme Sports Photographer, Naim Chidiac Representing Redbull & Liquid Force You are now an official athlete for both Liquid Force and Red Bull – Amazing! How did that happen? Omeir Saeed: Once I started getting better at wakebording and winning events, that’s when I got noticed by these big brands. Where is your favourite place to wakeboard? Omeir Saeed: My favourite place is close to my home, the cable park at Al Forsan Sports Resort in Abu Dhabi. You have some impressive skills! What is your favourite trick to do and how long did it take you to perfect that skill? Omeir Saeed: My favorite trick to do is called a “Moby Dick”, which is a back-flip with a back side 360. It took me a few months to perfect the rotation and make it look good. Related Post: 5 Tips for Wakeboarding Beginners What else does Omeir enjoy? Other than wakeboarding, what sports and adventures excite you? Omeir Saeed: I like to play football and basketball when I’m not wakeboarding. What is your dream adventure trip? Omeir Saeed: To go to as many cable parks as I can with friends and have fun wakeboarding! Do you have any words of advice or inspirational messages for our readers? Keep doing what you love to do and don’t give up. What is next for Omeir? Where do you hope the future takes you? Omeir Saeed: Hopefully wakeboarding all over the world! Follow Omeir’s adventures on his Instagram: @omeir_saeed All photo credit to Red Bull’s extreme sports photographer, Naim Chidiac – @naimchidiac Heather Duncan“Be fearless in pursuit of what sets your soul on fire” A wife, mother, adventurer and outdoors addict. My passions include scaling to the highest heights, cruising the ocean on my kayak and throwing myself from cliffs. Why? Because life is too short to be boring.
Dear Explorer, The C word is the word we all dread; it can feel like the end of the world, the end of your dreams. But, not for Lulua Faizullabhoy. This was exactly the catalyst she needed to push herself to achieve her dreams and prove to herself and everyone else what is possible. Amazingly, Lulua climbed Mount Elbrus only 4 months after surgery! We sat down for a coffee with Lulua as she returned from an adventure trip with her children and just before she headed off for another. This is the story of a Supermom, Cancer survivor, and mountain climber. Hiking in Oman Love for the Outdoors Hey Lulua, Please tell us a little more about yourself.. Lulua Faizullabhoy: Born and raised in India, I moved to the US for 12 years. I have now been in Dubai for the last 7 years where I live with my family – my husband and two daughters, who are 11 and 8 years old. My passions in life are outdoor adventures and things that give me an adrenaline rush! I am always up for an adventure weekend or holiday! Is being outdoors important to you? Lulua Faizullabhoy: Yes! And I discovered this not too long ago. Outdoors make me feel free and extremely humbled. I like the silence and it’s my playground. There is no better feeling than standing on a summit, running out of breath, but super happy. I really like testing my limits when outdoors. You get to see so many beautiful sights that mankind hasn’t yet touched. My children join me on my trips too. They love outdoor rock climbing and hiking. I try to squeeze in most of the weekends being outdoors with them, either in the UAE or Oman. Lulua in Wadi Bani Awf with her children who also love adventures with their Supermom You mentioned you have a close connection with mountains. Please tell us more about your passion for mountains. Lulua Faizullabhoy: When I think of the outdoors, I often find myself in the mountains. You look at these massive landforms and think that there’s no way you could get to the top. But, slowly, step by step, you make it and you are rewarded with such amazing views and find yourself planning to bag the next peak. It’s addicting. It’s persistence. It brings out the best in me and helps me grow stronger as a person. For how long have you been climbing mountains? Lulua Faizullabhoy: Not too long – 5 years. Which mountains have you climbed so far, and which ones are you planning in the future? Lulua Faizullabhoy: I have already climbed Mount Kilimanjaro (Tanzania) and Mount Elbrus (Russia) – two of the famous Seven Summits. For the future, there are too many – but, the list can start with the Himalayas! Besides climbing mountains and hiking, are there other sports you enjoy? Lulua Faizullabhoy: Powerlifting, kickboxing, swimming, badminton, and diving. Lulua at Uhuru Peak, Kilimanjaro, before her cancer diagnosis. The Dreaded C Word Last year, your whole world changed as you were diagnosed with breast cancer. Can you tell us what happened? Lulua Faizullabhoy: In Dubai, I had some testing done and the results all came back benign; but, there was a high risk of calcification which took to another step for preventive surgery. Not until I was put under the knife, did they discover it was cancer and they removed good part of it along with lymph nodes. I woke up to discover that the doctors had to cut away most of my flesh to remove the tumor and lymph nodes under my arm. Have you had the all clear from the cancer? Lulua Faizullabhoy: I’m still on medication for 5 years. I know myself, if I let myself go and not do what I love, I would go down a negative path. I may not be physically very strong, but everyday I’m working on it. Perhaps there are some limitations that have come with surgery and the removal of lymph nodes. The pain is still there especially when I train my upper body. But, there’s always a way to work around it. The more I push myself in training, the stronger I feel. Did your doctors ever advise you to stop your fitness goals? Lulua Faizullabhoy: My surgery-related doctors and also my radiologist said to wait another year before attempting to climb Mount Elbrus. But, when I messaged my surgeon that I’m going to attempt Mount Elbrus, he replied: “If this is what makes you happy, then go for it. Live your life”. My husband and my coach, DC, never doubted me and from Day 1 after my surgery they stood by me and kept pushing me through my training. A day before Elbrus summit The Goal: Mount Elbrus How long did you wait after your diagnosis & surgery before attempting to climb Mount Elbrus? Lulua Faizullabhoy: 4 months. A week after my cancer diagnosis and the surgery in March 2018, I started walking again – but, I could barely walk even 2 kms! At that time, I felt at my lowest – completely rock bottom. I had already signed up for Elbrus earlier in January and was training for it until I was diagnosed. I knew ahead of me was a long road of recovery from my major surgery and radiation treatment. I didn’t want to go down the path of feeling sorry for myself and wanted to reset my goal back to Elbrus. So, I trained hard for 4 months all throughout my treatment: conditioning workouts, stair climbing, and strength training. I was blessed with my family’s support and my kick ass coach, DC, who trained me well for the mountain. I had Elbrus in mind and all I wanted is to go climb that mountain. It wasn’t even about summiting. I wanted to get back to mountains and feel alive. Feeling my body functioning at its limit, the crisp air on my face, and the views that I’ll remember for the rest of my life. Was training during radiation treatments difficult? I’d imagine so. Lulua Faizullabhoy: Yes and no. Yes, because everyday it burned my skin to second degree burns, dehydrated me, and made me very tired. I had to push myself everyday to train and prepare my body. The after effect of the surgery was also painful while training, especially carrying a backpack or weighted vest. No, because during my treatment gave me life. It kept me grounded and focused. I had a good distraction from the negativity that draws on you during the treatment. It forced me to eat well and drink lots water. While training, you mentioned that you lost strength in your upper body but you were able to focus on your leg strength. Later, during the Elbrus attempt, were you ever concerned about your leg strength also? Lulua Faizullabhoy: I had no upper body strength because of my 2 major upper-body surgeries. All my focus was on lower body strength. The training focus was on leg strength and I felt stronger climbing Elbrus than I was on Kilimanjaro (prior to the cancer diagnosis). My concern wasn’t on leg strength when climbing Elbrus; I was more worried about carrying the heavy backpack on my own. On the Elbrus attempt, was there any point where you doubted your ability to succeed in the climb? Lulua Faizullabhoy: Every single day. How did you feel when you reached the summit of Mt Elbrus? Lulua Faizullabhoy: I cried. We were hit by a snow storm and I couldn’t comprehend my feelings. We had to rush down the mountain as the weather was getting worse. We barely stayed at the summit for 2 minutes. It was more than just summiting a mountain. It destroyed my self doubt and showed me strength I didn’t think I had. And, just how much ground you can cover while you transform along the way. This is Elbrus for me. It has proved me wrong when I was at rock bottom 4 months ago. Lulua standing on top of Mount Elbrus just 4 months after her cancer diagnosis and surgery What’s Next? You have shown the world how resilient you are. What is next for you? Lulua Faizullabhoy: I would love to climb more mountains in different parts of the world. Then, I’d go on to do a mountaineering course and learn more about technical climbing. What would you say to our readers to motivate them to get off the couch and follow their dreams? Lulua Faizullabhoy: When you want something so bad, fight for it. Don’t give up. It may look hopeless. People may criticize you. There will be some who will bring you down. Still, put up a fight. At the end of the day, your fight is your own. No one but you will have to do it. So fight alone, be your own superhero; and, when you win, you will be proud of the cape you wear! Thank you to Lulua for sharing her incredibly inspiring story here with us at ub-cool. Do you have something you want to share? Get in touch email@example.com Heather Duncan“Be fearless in pursuit of what sets your soul on fire” A wife, mother, adventurer and outdoors addict. My passions include scaling to the highest heights, cruising the ocean on my kayak and throwing myself from cliffs. Why? Because life is too short to be boring.
Dear Explorer, We at ub-cool love adrenaline and love the amazing extreme sports photography of Red Bull’s Naim Chidiac! Originally from Lebanon, this 40-year old award-winning photographer is based in Dubai and is one of Red Bull’s famous team of international photographers. Catching that perfect moment when an athlete flips in the air, lands in the water, or screeches a car to a halt, Naim is known for his extreme sports action shots. When he’s not behind the camera, you can find him riding the waves kite surfing or wakeboarding! Naim sat down with us to tell us about his journey to becoming a Red Bull photographer and the extreme sports he enjoys! Early days of photography ub-cool: Your specialty is ‘extreme sports action’ photography and I understand you yourself are an avid kite surfer and wakeboarder? Naim Chidiac: Yes, I started when I was 6 years old because I lived on the Mediterranean in Lebanon. It was more body-boarding than surfing. In fact, we didn’t have the body-board itself, so we used to make one out of a piece of wood. It was in Lebanon where I fell in love with extreme sports. “I was born like this – I love extreme sports.” ub-cool: Before teaming up with Red Bull, did you study photography? Naim Chidiac: Yeah, this is a very nice story. A friend of mine called saying his friend, the famous photographer Fares Jamal, needs an assistant. And, at that time, we were young in university and we needed money – a part-time job. So, I said yes and went to my interview and the first question was: “Do you know how to drive manual?” And, I didn’t know how to but I still said yes because I didn’t want to lose the job. So, he then said straightaway: “Tomorrow, we leave for Beirut.” Now, I’m left thinking how can I drive tomorrow? So, I called my friend and he stayed all night long teaching me how to drive manual, and then in the morning I managed to put the car into first gear to take off to Beirut. When we reached the Army Break I said “hello” to the soldier and he said, “please proceed.” Then, instead of putting the car into first gear, I put it into reverse and hit the car behind me! That was my first job. My first day at work. ub-cool: What a story! Did you lose the job? Naim Chidiac: No, no. We still work together and do a lot of jobs together. We travel to do jobs for big brands in places like Morocco, Spain, Turkey – essentially, everywhere. Even as a kid, I remember that where ever we would go, I would always take people’s cameras and start taking pictures. So, when I started working with Fares, I realized there is something inside me that loves photography. ub-cool: How old were you at that time? Naim Chidiac: I was 17 then. I started asking millions of questions and was very curious about photography. Back then, it used to be negatives and slides and not digital like today where everyone now clicks thousands of images to choose just one. It used to be long hours working every day. I learned the hard way. I was carrying bags, carrying lights, jumping on the third floor to shoot an apartment interior, or to shoot the mountain or to shoot the snow. So, while I was carrying and driving, I was always asking questions and keeping my eyes open. Luckily, I’m a quick learner too and suddenly Fares discovered that I have this talent for photography inside me and he bought me my first camera, which was a Nikon F3. It was a manual camera which had no auto-focus – nothing! And, a few years later, in 2002, I won best picture in Lebanon. The Red Bull team ub-cool: How did you become a Red Bull photographer? Naim Chidiac: After winning the award in 2002, I had an idea: Why don’t I combine my lifestyle and photography and try to join Red Bull because I myself do a lot of extreme sports? At that time, there was no Internet so we would wait every two or three months to go to our friend – he’s a wealthy guy who had Internet access – to watch one of Red Bull’s videos. So, we used to watch only two videos per year. This is how I fell in love with the brand. For the next two years in Lebanon, I went to Red Bull knocking on doors trying to get an appointment saying: “I do a lot of sports, I’m a skiing professional, and I do photography. It’s good to work with me.” But I never got an appointment. But, I didn’t give up. “Suddenly, in 2005, I got a phone call from Red Bull saying they had a job for me. I was to cover running in a quadrathlon event in Lebanon. I was so excited that I did not sleep that night!” In fact, I didn’t sleep for probably two weeks. Everyday thinking, “what do I have to do?” Then, I asked Fares if he would lend me all of his equipment and he said, “take anything you want.” I took lighting gear and everything and headed to the mountain for the downhill running discipline where I snapped amazing shots. Then, after that, I decided to also capture the other three disciplines in the quadrathlon: cross-country running, cycling, and kayaking from the snow to the sea. “Red Bull couldn’t believe that I managed to capture all four disciplines alone. And, since then, they decided to work with me.” Nick De Wit performs during Red Bull X-Fighters Jams at La Grande Poste in Algiers, Algeria on May 23rd , 2015 ub-cool: When did you move to Dubai? Naim Chidiac: I moved to Dubai in 2006 because of the war in Lebanon and was trying to connect with Red Bull as their headquarters was in Dubai. I got back in touch with the woman who had hired me in Lebanon and started shooting like crazy. Then, Red Bull International noticed my photos in 2008 and offered me a three-month-paid internship in Austria. It was intensive but I learned a lot about how to shoot, branding, managing an event, and so much more. “The internship was amazing and, since then, my life changed completely: the way I think, the clients, my approach to projects, my approach to photography, everything. Then, in 2010, I became an official Red Bull Photographer in 2010.” ub-cool: How many official photographers are there and what does it mean to be one? Naim Chidiac: There are 89 official Red Bull Photographers in the world. We are 100% supported by Red Bull and our clothing is also branded by the company. This has opened a lot of doors for me; I meet so many professional people, so many world champions, so many athletes, so many inspirational people, and I get to travel the world. ub-cool: What are the difficulties involved? Naim Chidiac: Yes, it’s amazing but it’s also hectic. There’s a lot of responsibility. Because you always have to be productive in an artistic way and it’s not easy all of the time. Sometimes you don’t have light, sometimes the weather is not in your favour, and sometimes the location is not good. And, there is a short time to take the many, many, many pictures required. Mohamed Abu Issa performs during a photoshoot in Sealine Desert, Qatar on May 15th 1014 Nike & Nat Geo ub-cool: You shoot photos for Nike as well – does Red Bull allow you to work with other brands? Naim Chidiac: Yes, I do a lot of work for Nike as well. The good thing about Red Bull is that you’re not working exclusively for them. I give them priority not because they oblige me but because I love the brand. This is my life. ub-cool: Is photography is your full-time job or do you do something else on the side? Naim Chidiac: Yeah, yeah, photography is my full-time job and I’m so busy I can’t handle it alone. I have lots of people working for me and it gets crazy. I shoot big events like the Abu Dhabi festival, and also a lot of advertising for Ferrari World, Etisalat, Sun & Sand, and others. And, many of my pictures won best advertising two years ago. ub-cool: Would you ever consider working for National Geographic? Naim Chidiac: I love National Geographic. In late 2017, I worked on something with them. I love National Geographic but I cannot compromise my sports life. With Nat Geo, the pictures are amazing but you need to wait one month, a long time often, to take this picture of a lion passing somewhere. For me, sport comes first in my life. For instance, right now it’s windy and I want to go kite surf. Related Article An exclusive with Nat Geo photographer Keith Ladzinski and his addiction to photography Camera equipment ub-cool: What type of camera do you shoot with? Naim Chidiac: I use a lot of cameras like Hasselbad and Nikon and I always update. Hasselblad has one of the highest resolution and it’s medium format; this means it has a bigger CCD inside and higher resolution so you can print huge billboards with amazing resolution. “For my action photography for Red Bull and many other brands, I use a Nikon DSLR – specifically, the latest Nikon 850. It’s an amazing camera. I fell in love with this camera and I can’t stop using it.” ub-cool: Do you ever shoot with your phone? Naim Chidiac: You know, I do use my phone a lot. There are a lot of my pictures and also a large series that were taken on my phone and it went viral. ub-cool: What was the most dangerous photo you have taken? Naim Chidiac: My most dangerous shot happened while I was shooting Formula One. It wasn’t supposed to be super dangerous and I don’t know what happened. I was in the back of a truck with the back door open shooting David Coulthard driving behind us. I didn’t know that they were going to go at 240 km/h and I had no protection – nothing! I was shooting while the truck started turning with the curves. That’s when I switched to survival mode because the driver could not hear me. “I was almost flying off the truck and there was nowhere to hold – nothing. I don’t know how I managed to but I held on to something and kept shooting (laughs).” It was super scary. After that, I was really shaking for an entire hour. Even David Coulthard hugged me after the race because he was watching me struggling as he was driving. I got an amazing shot, but I was really super scared. David Coulthard performs during Red Bull Racing F1 Car Tour in Petra, Jordan on April 24th, 2016 Fun & Family ub-cool: What are your favorite three activities? Naim Chidiac: I love kite surfing, skiing and hiking, and I actually used to compete in skiing. Every summer, I do a lot of hiking; I choose a mountain and I spend two or three weeks there. I also travel a lot. These are the four things I enjoy doing. It’s not a sport, but I travel a lot. Last year, I traveled more than around 70 times in the year. ub-cool: Where do you kitesurf and wakeboard in Dubai? Naim Chidiac: At Sunset beach which is next to the Burj Al Arab hotel. The waves aren’t the best for surfing but it’s enough for desperate people like us. ub-cool: Is your family as adventurous as you? Naim Chidiac: Yes – my wife is from Slovakia and is crazier than me! That’s why we match. We ski, dive, and wakeboard together. She also loves hiking and was the person who got me into hiking – now I love hiking. ub-cool: What advice would you give our readers to inspire them to go on extraordinary journeys? Naim Chidiac: My advice to everyone is: don’t ever stop doing what you love even if you fail the first, second, third, and fourth time. You know how much negative feedback I received from Red Bull in the beginning? But, I never stopped. Some of the feedback made me cry because you feel like this is the end of the world; but, for me, I didn’t stop. I’m still learning, till now. So, never give up in life. Never. I failed in many situations before but all that was a lesson and motivation making me super confident. I know exactly what I’m doing. So, never give up and never be lazy. Everything is happening outdoors so if you stay on your couch nothing will come to you. Liked what you read? Subscribe below for more inspirational stories right in your Inbox! Medina IlyassovaAdventurer, ub-cool founder, yoga, Muay Thai and running fan, epilepsy survivor, mother of 2. Medina believes that life is too short to be ordinary…, and that we should seek out adventures!
Dear Explorer, Climbing the Seven Summits faster than anyone before is an amazing achievement, but imagine that accomplishment after breaking your neck. We speak to Steve Plain, a man with determination, courage and a zest for life. Days after breaking his neck in a freak surf accident in December 2014, Australian Steve Plain made an ambitious life goal: to climb the Seven Summits, the highest peak on every continent. Not content with just achieving this, he planned to do it faster than had ever been done before. Due to his accident, Steve had multiple injuries that were going to stand in his way including fractures to his C2, C3, and C7 vertebra, a contorted spinal cord and torn ligaments. Was his goal achievable? Doctors were unsure if he would ever walk again. But Steve proved to everyone what the human body can do when it has a mission. The goal was simple: Climb the 7 Summits, the highest mountain on each of the seven continents, in under 4 months. Steve spoke with ub-cool via Skype from his home in Perth, Australia. Despite all the physical injuries that required time to heal, his Seven Summits ambition was all the more unusual because he had no mountaineering experience to speak of. “I had done bush walks and small mountains in Australia but you are not above the snow line. I had never done any technical rock climbing or mountaineering. With what I was aiming to do I didn’t want to rush it either, to go straight ahead and attempt the seven summits would have been quite reckless. I gave myself a couple of years of training, doing a mountaineering course, doing the practice expeditions, spending time with good qualified guides and slowly learning so I had the skills and experience to tackle the summits safely.” Recovering from injury Steve took 2 years to learn technical climbing skills and gain the required experience What was your motivation for this incredible feat? Steve: I spent a lot of time focusing on work but hadn’t achieved a lot of personal goals so my motivation was to recover and get out and actually start living my life and doing something Is there a motto you live by? Steve: You never know what you’ll wake up to tomorrow so just try to make the most of today, and I guess thats what I’ve tried to live by since my accident. What happened the day of the accident? Steve: I used to race triathlons, competed in Ironman challenges, and swam 60km in the pool every week. Spending a lot of time in the water was normal but on that day… it was just the wrong timing and I went head first into the sand. Do you believe that everything happens for a reason? Steve: I wouldn’t say that I’m super spiritual but I do think that things do happen for a reason. I have no regrets in breaking my neck. It sounds strange but in a way I’m pleased that it happened. I know had I not gone through that, then I would probably still be doing the same things I always have: working away and waking up for my 9-5 job. “Whilst it was horrendous at the time, I’m kind of pleased it happened. It shakes up your life and makes you appreciate what you’ve got and not take your life for granted.” What is your favourite mountain from the list? Steve: The two that stand out are Alpamayo in Peru and Denali in Alaska. Alpamayo: During my practice climbs, I had a month in Peru at Alpamayo which has a really steep final face. Up there, a storm came through on the planned summit day so we waited out the storm. The next day, we had the perfect summit day and were the only people on the top so we had the entire mountain to ourselves which was really nice. Denali: The second is one of the Seven Summits, Denali. Doing the 7 Summits in the time frame we did, Denali ended up being out of season – so, it was winter/start of spring. No one had been in since the previous year. The expedition took 17 days and for that time we were the only people on the mountain; so, we had to be fully self supported, unlike places like Everest where you have great help from Sherpas. We ended up getting stuck in a storm half way up leaving us confined within the tent for 3 days. Then, we had this very narrow weather window so we had to attempt the summit. We left from the lower camps for the 20-hour round trip with temps down to MINUS 45 degrees! “Only two of us made it to the top – myself and my climbing partner, Jon Gupta. To stand on the summit of Denali, just the two of us, was absolutely remarkable. We are so used to being surrounded by people, so to be so isolated was incredible.” Steve climbing Everest Favourite bit of kit? Steve: I’ve never used one before but I used it for all seven summits: an inflatable pillow. I had never worried about pillows before but being on the mountain for so long this 50gm Sea to Summit inflatable pillow was awesome. A good sleep can affect your mood and your performance the following day. I even used it up at 8,000m on the South Col on Everest. You were active before your accident and even more so after, how did you find your passion for sports? Steve: When I was a kid, my mum and dad would throw us into all kind of sports. We weren’t allowed to watch TV or play video games; instead, we were encourage to go outside and entertain ourselves. What you learn exploring as young kids puts you in really good stead for when you grow up. Now with all the media frenzy around your story, how does that feel? Steve: Firstly I didn’t appreciate how far the story would spread and what people would get out of it. The ammount of people that have made contact through Facebook & Instagram to say that they have been inspired to get outside is incredibly humbling and pretty remarkable. Steve on Mount Denali in Alaska On the 14th May 2018, Plain stood on the summit of Mount Everest, the highest point on Earth, only 117 days after he began his Seven Summits quest, breaking the previous record of 126 days set by Polish climber Janusz Kochanski in 2017. An incredible achievement by a man who has inspired countless people around the world. So what now for mountain man Steve Plain? His response proves his incredibly humble attitude: “I’ve got to get back to work again, I took 6 months leave for this challenge. I’m an engineer so I’ll go back and hopefully blend back in again until I figure out my next plan.” Read more about Steve and his Project 7in4 by clicking here. Heather Duncan“Be fearless in pursuit of what sets your soul on fire” A wife, mother, adventurer and outdoors addict. My passions include scaling to the highest heights, cruising the ocean on my kayak and throwing myself from cliffs. Why? Because life is too short to be boring.
Dear Explorer, Every week, we share stories of inspirational people from athletes to conservationists and everyone in between. Today, we want to share a story close to the ub-cool team’s heart. Our founder and inspirational leader, Medina Ilyassova, completed her very first marathon earlier this week in just under 6 hours! This is truly an inspirational moment for our entire team. After living with epilepsy for decades, Medina was unable to enjoy things like scuba diving and long-distance running. Thanks to a successful treatment, under the supervision of Professor Dr. Christian Elger in Bonn, Germany, Medina now lives a life free from epilepsy and advocates for epilepsy awareness. What does a life without epilepsy mean exactly? Well, for some, they may choose to stay home and relax. But, not Medina. On weekends, you can find her outdoors doing everything from diving in the Omani sea to hiking in search of remote caves to throwing punches at the UFC gym to paramotoring over the coastline. She also pushes the limits and heads on excursions to climb volcanoes and explore the Arctic circle. Read More: Medina’s excursion to Alaska and the Arctic Circle Read More: Climbing an active volcano in Tanzania Educating People about Epilepsy While chasing her own personal fitness goals, Medina is also adamant to educate the masses about epilepsy. To let people know they can dream of a life where they can achieve all of their goals instead of allowing epilepsy to dictate and restrict their lives. Thus, she has made it her mission to marry fitness-related activities with raising epilepsy awareness. She rallies up teams to run marathons together, organizes talks to share this important message, and raises money to help people afflicted with epilepsy who can’t afford medical treatment. Running to Raise Money for Inkara’s Epilepsy Treatment Yesterday, after training for months, Medina pushed her body to the limit and attempted her first marathon. A testament to her dedication and perseverance, Medina completed the TCS Amsterdam Marathon in 5 hours and 57mins! One major factor that helped Medina cross the finish line was knowing that she raised over 10, 000 Euros for a young girl from Kazakhstan who suffers terribly from epileptic seizures. On some days, this 21-month old child has up to 10 seizures! Unfortunately, due to her location, she has not had access to medical specialists to help accurately diagnose her condition. Thanks to the money raised, we are happy to report that prior to the marathon Inkara and her mother flew to Germany and is being assessed by Dr. Elger. We are all hoping Inkara receives a diagnosis and treatment plan that helps her live a childhood without seizures. Donations are welcome – visit Inkara’s GoFundMe page> Read more about Inkara’s story here> Highlights from the Amsterdam Marathon Who did you dedicate this marathon to? “I dedicate my run to my husband Usama, both his & my parents, Professor Dr. Elger, and of course Inkara.” On October 19th, Medina landed in Amsterdam with her kit ready for the marathon. The stadium was packed! Read, Set, Go! 25 km into the marathon… The Incredible Support team! 35km into the marathon… The Finish Line – She Made It! Celebrating What message do you have for people who think they can’t run a full marathon? “It’s all in your head – our bodies can do much more than we think. We are the ones who limit ourselves.” http://www.ub-cool.com/magazine/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/WhatsApp-Video-2018-10-21-at-7.46.56-PM.mp4 Also, at the finish line were both Inkara and her mother who had travelled from Germany to cheer on Medina. How did it feel to see Inkara after you finished the marathon? “It made my exhaustion all the more worth it knowing I helped this precious child.” Left to right: Medina’s husband, Usama Barwani, Medina holding Inkara, and Inkara’s mother The piece of metal everyone strives to hold! How do you feel today after a good night’s sleep? And, would you endure the suffering again? “I’ll definitely do it again – I am already checking upcoming marathons with Karima!” For more highlights from the marathon, visit the ub-cool tracking page > Medina encourages our team to push ourselves to the limits and achieve our goals. We hope her story has also inspired you to get off the couch and achieve your fitness dreams! Rakhi ChuExplorer, writer, and chief editor with a passion to travel the world, delve into history, and just write write write! Three continents later, this Canadian lives in Dubai. Recent Adventure: Jordan – Jerash, Petra, Wadi Rum, and the Dead Sea. Bucket List: Caves – Hang Son Doong (Vietnam) and Krubera (Georgia).
Dear Explorer, With the likes of Spartan Race and Tough Mudder, Obstacle Course Racing (OCR) is the fastest growing sport on the planet. But, not everyone is of that level – or wants to put themselves in that fast, frenzied state of punishment. Last week I headed along for a challenge with more of a fun obstacle element and an atmosphere that the whole family could enjoy. One of the inflatable obstacles at the NOS Challenge | Photo Credit: Nigel Burn The NOS Challenge Welcome to the NOS challenge, which stands for National Obstacle Series. It follows the same lines as the other bigger, tougher brands. Although this has a competitive edge as entrants race for prize money, it skips the part of gruelling training, carrying atlas stones, and other muscle-twitching nasties from the competitive OCR brands. This is basically a giant inflatable bouncy castle course, with 9 of the world’s largest inflatable obstacles! The company responsible for bringing NOS to Oman, and also the Tough Mudder race, is our friends at Sabco Sports. Somewhere along the line in the pre-race banter, it was suggested that myself and their prize athlete, and current title holder on the NOS course, Kunal “The Champion” Singh should battle head to head for the glory of the ‘2018 NOS Champion’. And, that was it, before I knew it it was Heather VS Kunal and ub-cool VS Sabco Sports! Did you follow the Challenge on our Insta Stories? If not, click above for some fun highlights! Personally, I love a bit of friendly competition but just to look at Kunal, he is streets above me in fitness. Although I hike, box and live an active life, could I really measure up against Sabco’s prize athlete? Looking back, Kunal said: “Leading up to the NOS event, I knew it was going to be fun going head-to-head with Heather. We had the rivalry going between us for weeks, including the trash talks and Instagram wars – we even had polls on who would win!” Game Day! The day soon fast approached and as I walked into the event I suddenly felt nervous – there were a lot of people to witness this! The klaxon sounds and we race head-to-head up the huge first obstacle which is an inflatable staircase . Something in my brain just isn’t coordinating my legs and my arms and I fall to the bottom on the first hurdle. This isn’t going to be as easy as I had thought… After weeks of competitive banter and talk about this event, I did NOT want Kunal to win. I quickly got my head in the game and as I hit the ground after my initial trouble, I was determined to win! So, I gave it my everything. October humidity in Muscat is no joke! Running the course looked easy but once you start breathing it’s much more difficult – the humidity makes the air feel thick and your aerobic performance is HARD. It was a fun event for families too | Photo Credit: Nigel Burn Who’s Winning? Racing over and under the obstacles, sweat in my eyes, I had no idea where Kunal was on the course other than he was behind me. So, I kept running and kept running through the struggle. As I passed the finishing line, I saw Kunal ahead of me… I thought he was behind me?! I was so confused. It turned out that he had given up along the course and infact I was the winner! After the event, an exhausted Kunal tells us: “The race was harder than I had expected. As the race began I hurtled over the first obstacle at speed, slid down the other side and sprinted along the course to the next obstacles ahead. The hot humid air made it harder to breathe so I had to work harder. It’s been a while since I sprinted! I saw Heather not far behind me and I knew this was going to be a tough challenge.” Being humble is important, but for this one, I’m certainly proud of myself. I look forward to the rematch in 2019! Thank you to Sabco Sports for the fun & entertaining family event. Heather Duncan“Be fearless in pursuit of what sets your soul on fire” A wife, mother, adventurer and outdoors addict. My passions include scaling to the highest heights, cruising the ocean on my kayak and throwing myself from cliffs. Why? Because life is too short to be boring.
Dear Explorer, Ever wondered how much training is required when you’re on a national gymnastics team? Or, how in the world Cirque du Soleil performers balance on their heads, fly through the air, and dangle from ropes? To get some answers, we caught up with World Champion gymnast, Laure de Pryck, from Belgium who performs in Cirque du Soleil shows around the world. At only 22 years old, this acrobatic gymnast has not only competed and won worlds but has also performed in three of Cirque du Soleil’s incredibly stunning shows. What does it take to become a world-class gymnast and performer? What is life like as a performer? Today, Laure reveals what life is like on the road as a performer and what’s next in store for her. From Acrobatic Gymnastics to the National Team to Cirque du Soleil ub-cool: How did you get into gymnastics? Laure: I started with gymnastics as a kid because, as my mom told me, I had a lot of energy and was always climbing on things. So, she registered me in gymnastics and I kind of rolled into it – changing clubs and moving to higher levels. When I was in my last club, it turned out my coach was also the coach of the national team of Belgium. Together with my male partner, I got selected to join that national team of Acrobatic Gymnastics. There we were intensively trained by two Ukrainian coaches and one Russian choreographer. ub-cool: What was the training like? Laure: We had to train 28 hours a week, for a total of 10 training sessions. On Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday we had two training sessions: in the morning from 7:30am to 10:30am, then we would go to school, and after that we would train again from 4pm to 6:30pm. On Wednesday and Sunday, we had one 3-hour training session while on Saturday we were off. ub-cool: That’s a short period to head to-and-from school between trainings. How far was your school? Laure: I began going to boarding school because it was next to the gym. So, it was really easy to go in the morning to train and there was a school bus that brought us to-and-from school. After training, we would go back to boarding school to eat, study, and sleep. ub-cool: From what age did you begin competing and which events did you compete in? Laure: I competed from the age of 13 till 17 – it was 3 full years of acrobatics and we did 3 major competitions. One was the European Championships (for juniors) which we won, then the World Championships (for seniors), and finally the World Games which took place in Colombia. ub-cool: I haven’t seen this sport in the Olympics – do you think it’ll be included one day? Laure: Acrobatic gymnastics isn’t in the Olympics yet. It’s slowly trying to make its way – this year it is part of the Youth Olympic Games and it was also part of the European Games. I really hope that one day it will be included in the Olympic program so more people can get to know the sport! ub-cool: Did many performers at Cirque de Soleil start from this sport? Laure: Yes, a lot of Cirque du Soleil performers come from this sport. Our training prepares us to do different types of disciplines such as flying acts, trapeze, and hand balancing to name a few. Career & Future ub-cool: When did you begin performing in Cirque du Soleil? Laure: After competing at the World Games in Colombia, my coach announced that my partner and I had been offered a contract by Cirque du Soleil. So, I joined when I was 17 and so far I have performed in three different shows. ub-cool: Which shows? Laure: I started together with my partner in the show Ovo doing a 1.5-year tour in Japan. When my contract finished, there was a long break ahead so I decided to start studying and try different things – I was looking for new challenges. After three weeks of being home, I accepted a 3-month contract for a temporary replacement in the show, Quidam. Joining this show meant a lot to me because it was the first show I ever saw as a kid. As a child, I remember being amazed and impressed and I would never have dreamed I’d one day be a part of that show. After the contract I went back home and continued studying biochemistry at the university in Belgium. Between contracts I try to catch up as much as possible with my exams and practical work. Suddenly, I got a call from the casting department of Cirque du Soleil and I got the chance to rejoin the team I worked with in Quidam but this time in a different show called ‘Sep7imo Dia’. Now I perform two acts, banquine and handbalancing. The show is honouring an Argentinean rock group and is only touring in South and Central America. ub-cool: You’re studying biochemistry – why did you pick this subject? Laure: At one point I will not be able to bend in half anymore… So, I am working on a back-up plan and chose something in sciences because I was good at it in high school. I looked at different options like medicine, bioengineering, pharmacy, etc. and, to me, the biochemistry program looked the most appealing. So, I made arrangements with the professors in Belgium to complete the 3-year bachelor’s degree and the 2-year master’s degree. So far I’ve almost completed 2 years of my bachelor. ub-cool: How do you fit studying into your hectic training, work, and travel schedule? Laure: I need to study on my own as I can’t attend the classes. I buy the books then I leave on tour, I study by myself, I take the exam in whichever country I am in, etc. I don’t take up the full course like normal students would do, because I don’t have enough time to both study and do a full-time job. ub-cool: What is your favourite discipline? Laure: I really like working with the banquine guys because I grew up doing this discipline. I feel I have lots of room to grow, to try new things; because the guys are very strong they can throw me very high and teach me new things – and that’s what I really like about it. ub-cool: What is the life span of a gymnast in the industry? Laure: It depends on your discipline – it’s hard to say. For example, handbalancing is really hard on the body because I’m putting a lot of pressure on my shoulders and my back. I would say banquine is easier because I don’t need to bend so much. ub-cool: For you, up to what age are you planning to perform in gymnastics? Laure: I plan to perform for a couple of years. But, I think the traveling situation would stop me from doing it longer because I would like to build a family. I know of a woman who has two kids and she is still performing with her husband; both of them are still travelling a lot and they are around 40 years old. There are a lot of performing artists who travel with their families but I don’t think I would want to do that; maybe I’ll change my mind but time will tell. Personal Life ub-cool: Where do you live when you’re not on the job? Is your family close by as well? Laure: I live in Belgium and all of my family lives in Belgium too. ub-cool: Are there other family members who are into sports professionally? Laure: I am the only one. My whole family is active and into sports – my brothers and cousins like rafting, climbing, soccer, and volleyball. But, I’m the only one who is actually working in sports professionally. Everyone else in the family has gone to university. ub-cool: Do you play other sports or do you not have time? Laure: Not on a regular basis– I don’t really have the time for it. ub-cool: What else are you passionate about besides acrobatics and biochemistry? Laure: I like to travel and visit places; I mainly enjoy nature I am not so interested in architecture. I’d rather be in the mountains and see lakes, sinkholes, national parks, and be outside in nature. ub-cool: What has been your favourite adventure? Laure: In Guatemala, I hiked up the Acatenango volcano, which was one of the best experiences of my life. It was almost 4000 meters tall, and we drove up to a camp around half way up. After being dropped off, it took us 4-5 hours to reach the base camp where we slept overnight; from there we could see the eruptions of the volcano next to us. Then, we woke up at 4am and completed 2 more hours of climbing to reach the top and to watch the sunrise. ub-cool: Was the climb easy or difficult for you? Laure: It was difficult to climb because of the small stones which you keep sliding on. But, I really liked the experience. ub-cool: Which are the three top things / destinations you want to do or visit? What’s on your bucket list? Laure: I’ve always wanted to go to New Zealand actually for a stupid reason: as a kid, I looked up the furthest place away from Belgium and it turned out to be New Zealand. And, I would really like to see the Northern Lights and ride dog sleds and stay in an ice hotel. Third, I would want to visit Africa and go on a safari! Inspiration ub-cool: Do you have a favourite gymnast or athlete that inspires you? Laure: When I was young in Belgium, I looked up to the Belgian team from the previous generation that did the same sport as me. My idols at the time were Julie Van Gelder en Menno Vanderghote. ub-cool: Has your life as an athlete giving you any life skills? Laure: I feel being on the national team for three years taught me a lot about life Those three years really shaped me into who I am now. So far that period has been the hardest in my life as we had a lot of trainings, a lot of school, and our coaches were really tough. At training every small mistake we would make meant we had to start the routine over again. We learned to be very disciplined and I had to be at a certain weight as well; so, even what I ate was strict. I think that period taught me a lot of the discipline I need right now to study at university while working. It taught me to accept responsibility; I know what needs to be done and I know what I need to do to get it done. ub-cool: What is your inspirational advice for our readers to overcome challenges and achieve their dreams? Laure: I feel I really found what I love to do and am very passionate about it. I think that passion helped me through the challenges I have faced, for example an injury. If you really love what you do, you’ll find the motivation to get through it and continue to work towards your goals. Follow Laure on Instagram @laure_dp Feature photo credit: Julio Lopez Medina IlyassovaAdventurer, ub-cool founder, yoga, Muay Thai and running fan, epilepsy survivor, mother of 2. Medina believes that life is too short to be ordinary…, and that we should seek out adventures!
Dear Explorer, Would you like to explore the South Pole and experience the freezing white environment one day? To reach Antarctica is a mission in itself! To find out more, ub-cool caught up with Oman’s youngest explorer to go on an expedition to Antarctica – and, she’s also the 3rd Omani female to reach the South Pole! In 2013, she celebrated her 26th birthday in Antarctica – isn’t that the coolest way to celebrate your birthday? Rumaitha Al Busaidi has travelled to 64 countries, dove into icy Antarctic waters, and climbed mountains. When she isn’t out exploring the world, this dedicated environmentalist is focused on promoting and establishing fish farming in Oman. The Antarctic Expedition ub-cool: Tell us about this amazing expedition to the South Pole. What was the goal behind it? Rumaitha: I went on an environmental expedition that was arranged by an organization called 2041. Their goal is to spread awareness about Antarctica and how we should protect it as it is the last wilderness on earth. Because, by 2041 – thus their name – the Antarctic Treaty that countries have signed to protect the region will be up for discussion; and, there is a possibility that people may look into introducing mining, human settlements, and so on. ub-cool: How many days did it take? From where did you begin? Rumaitha: In total, I was in the Antarctic for a good 4 weeks around March, 2013. Getting there was a long journey. I boarded a flight from Muscat to Doha then to Sao Paulo (Brazil) then on to Buenos Aires before taking a domestic flight to Ushuaia, known as the southernmost city in the world, from where we took a ship to the Antarctic. The ship journey took 3 days to reach the Antarctic and from there we started skiing and hiking. ub-cool: What was the craziest thing you did during this trip? Rumaitha: At the end, while celebrating, wearing just our clothes we dove into ice-cold Antarctic waters! The water was minus 2 degrees Celsius – I couldn’t even swim! I was supposed to do a lap but couldn’t complete it because it was that cold. I remember screaming: Take me out of this water now! It’s too cold! ub-cool: Was it only you who swam or the entire group? Rumaitha: There were 88 people on the boat and we all swam except for 1 woman. She was from Qatar and she felt so defeated that she decided to return the following year so she could try the swim, which she did. ub-cool: What’s the most memorable thing about your expedition? Rumaitha: The animals and the silence. We live in a very quiet country (Oman) as it is but I think I experienced silence in its true meaning – in its true sense – when I was in the South Pole. It was nothing but animals breathing; and, the animals don’t really feel afraid. I mean you really see the impact of humans on its surroundings when you see animals here and how they run away from you; whereas over there, they really don’t really care who you are. They are interested in knowing what this weird blob is in front of them. Penguins! ub-cool: What types of animals did you see there? Rumaitha: Lots of whales, seals, and different types of birds including penguins. Penguins stink. That’s the first thing you’re warned about. Once you get your ice boots on, they tell you: “be careful not to step on guano – penguin poop.” Because if it sticks to your boots then everything smells – you, your tent, everything! ub-cool: What was the most dangerous part of the expedition? Rumaitha: When we were sleeping on ice and we heard one of the glaciers crack… and we didn’t know if it was going to affect us or not. Would there be an avalanche, would it be on the other side, would it be us? It was a very scary situation because you could actually hear the glacier cracking. And, that’s how silent it is there because you hear the crack happening. It ended up not affecting us fortunately, but we did get a chance to see the crack and it had split the ice into two. ub-cool: When you completed the expedition, what did you learn? Was there a lesson you learned? Rumaitha: Antarctica changed me as a person – it made me a “seize the moment” type of person. It has made me more committed to give back; you see the influence there and what you need to protect in terms of the wilderness and the environment. If it wasn’t for that experience, I wouldn’t be a board member of the Environmental Society of Oman right now. Because I want to make sure that I’m doing the level best that I can, at least in my community, to make sure we are doing as much as possible when it comes to saving the environment. I think Antarctica has made me seize the moment. Expeditions with 2041 ub-cool: Does 2041 organize these expeditions on a regular basis? Rumaitha: Every expedition is a different expedition so it depends on your luck. One year they do the Antarctic and the next year might be the Arctic. In fact, next year, they are planning to do the Arctic in June; I’m thinking of whether or not I should join but I’m not sure yet. ub-cool: How can someone register for these expeditions? Rumaitha: You can apply directly. But, for my expedition in 2013, I was part of a program called the Antarctic Youth Ambassador Program. ub-cool: Please tell us more about this program. Rumaitha: It goes through a very rigorous selection process and they only selected 5 young people to represent that program; we went on a type of scholarship so a lot of things we got were subsidized. For the Arctic, because I’m not considered a “young” person anymore, I can’t represent that program again. A lot of people actually get their companies to sponsor them as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility for the environment. ub-cool: Can anyone attempt these trips or do they check your fitness? Rumaitha: So, you can apply as an individual but you have to get the “okay” from your doctor along with a long list of things to do beforehand. At the camp in Ushuaia, they test your fitness and equipment to check whether you are capable enough to handle the expedition; some of the people on our trip were sent back because they were told they can’t handle the expedition physically. Waving the Omani flag from Mt Damavand, Iran. Other Exciting Adventures ub-cool: I read that you’ve climbed Mt Kilimanjaro. What else have you tried? Rumaitha: Yes, I climbed Kilimanjaro and the next year I attempted Damavand in Iran, which is the highest peak in the Middle East; but, I was unsuccessful. A large storm on summit night meant we couldn’t make it. ub-cool: How far did you make it? Rumaitha: Damavand is about 5,610m tall and we managed to reach around 5000m; then it was abort mission, it’s not possible, it’s too windy, it’s too dangerous. And, also, there was a language barrier between us and the guides. They said we could bring the same gear that we used for Kilimanjaro but we ended up needing more of what I used in Antarctica. They told us it was a hike not a climb, so I didn’t bring the required gear for a climb such as an axe. ub-cool: What’s next, and when? Rumaitha: We are planning to climb Mt Elbrus. The plan was for this year but I just joined a new job and I can’t take leave – haha. So, hopefully next year. When Passion Becomes a Career ub-cool: What do you do for work? Rumaitha: I’m an environmentalist and currently am working for GlassPoint Solar in Oman, which is the leader in solar for the oil and gas industry. I feel like my values and the company are aligned in terms of sustainability and working in that field. ub-cool: Why did you choose to become an environmentalist? Rumaitha: I was supposed to be a doctor but then I realized I didn’t really like medicine; it was more of my parents’ dream. Second, would be because I really love the sea. My specialization is actually marine sciences and I did a master’s in environmental sciences and another master’s in Aquaculture (fish farming). ub-cool: What type of projects have you worked on? Rumaitha: For aquaculture, my project was starting these small aquaculture farms. The first one was successful back in 2011 and now we have 16 farms in Oman. Since then, the government is adopting it as a national project. ub-cool: What type of fish do you farm here in Oman? Rumaitha: Mainly tilapia, which is a fish that’s popular in Egypt, the Philippines, and India. The main reason we farm tilapia is because it can tolerate the changes in salinity while at the same time it is a fish that you can do anything to and it won’t die. It can sustain being handled. But, you have to introduce it very carefully here in Oman because the farmers are not fishermen and fish farming is something very new; so, you need to use a type of fish that you know is not delicate enough to die like hammour, for example. They are looking to introduce another type of fish called barramundi – this is higher end in terms of fish and it is very popular in Indonesia and Australia. Favourite Destinations ub-cool: You love to travel! How many countries have you visited? Rumaitha: 64. ub-cool: Which 3 countries are your favourite and do you consider them adventure locations? Rumaitha: I’m always bias towards my country. Oman is always a place where I find more and more things to explore. For me, I still consider Oman as a destination for me to do adventures, especially during the weekends. I would highly recommend it. Turkey and Argentina. I had a really amazing time exploring different places there which were all outdoors hiking adventures – it was beautiful. My trips are usually away from where tourists go; so, I choose weird places sometimes. It was amazing. ub-cool: Do you mostly travel solo? Rumaitha: Yes. My mom told me to travel the world – she said don’t be like me. She is the type of person who needs someone before she does something; so, she encouraged me to travel on my own. ub-cool: Who inspires you when you travel and are on these adventures? Rumaitha: My mom. I imagine her screaming at me. That’s what happened at Mt Kilimanjaro. During summit night, I had a really high fever and everyone said it’s time for you to go down. I kept screaming, “No! What would my mom think if I went back down before finishing?” So that was my push forward. ub-cool: Are you an adrenaline junkie or an endurance? Rumaitha: I think I’m more endurance than adrenaline. ub-cool: Do you calculate the risk or jump right in? Rumaitha: I calculate the risks. Like for Mt Kilimanjaro, I read that there are around 21 people who die there per year. So, I asked myself whether I should really do this. But, then I told myself I’ll just go and talked myself out of the fear while I was on the plane – haha. Follow Rumaitha’s adventures at: Facebook: Rummy On The Radio Twitter: @rumaithabusaidi Instagram: @rummoya Medina IlyassovaAdventurer, ub-cool founder, yoga, Muay Thai and running fan, epilepsy survivor, mother of 2. Medina believes that life is too short to be ordinary…, and that we should seek out adventures!