The Emirati athlete Marwan Al Marri recently won a high-level fitness competition in Dubai, and is tipped to do well in the forthcoming Dubai Fitness Competition.
Marwan Al Marri trains for Dubai Fitness Competition
One of 36 men who will be taking part in next month's Dubai Fitness Competition, Marwan Al Marri is one Emirati athlete tipped as a hot favourite to walk away with the Dh200,000 in top prize money.
Launched last year by His Highness Sheikh Majid bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum to raise awareness of the importance of exercise, health and fitness among individuals across the UAE, in particular Emirati citizens, the competition aims to find Dubai's fittest man and woman.
Although traditionally more interested in boxing and muay Thai fighting, the 23-year-old business management student has become hooked in the past year on CrossFit - a fitness trend growing in popularity in the UAE - as well as Olympic lifting.
His coach, Derrick Branford, is an Olympic lifter who used to compete at the state and national level in the US. Al Marri hopes one day to compete internationally himself.
Al Marri trains twice daily: in the morning with his Olympic lifting coach; then in the evening, he goes to The Burn Room, the CrossFit facility he is affiliated with.
Even during Ramadan, knowing the fitness competition was not so far away, he did not allow his fitness and healthy eating patterns to slip. With a daily 3.4km jog around Safa Park before iftar, he would then eat, pray, rest and get up to go to the gym.
"This year, I want to win the fitness competition so I have the chance to focus on one sport and focus on the Olympics one day, focusing on weightlifting," he says.
His mother Nafeesa is proud of her son's dedication to sport -she is a keen gym goer herself, a fan of everything from cardio to weights and boxing.
"Even during Ramadan, he wouldn't eat the same as everyone else," she says. "He doesn't eat the same as us usually, but he stuck to his diet throughout Ramadan, which can be very hard."
She says he is one of a growing number of young Emiratis turning to sports and fitness.
"The number is growing, especially among the teenagers," she says. "It's a really good thing. It means they are thinking in the right way about their lifestyle.
"It's important for them to make these changes with all the diabetes and obesity," she adds.
Once Al Marri finishes his degree at the Dubai Men's College later this year, he will be able to focus on his goal of taking part in the Olympics.
He sees changes coming among the Emirati community in terms of understanding the importance of staying active.
"The locals are opening up to the fact that being healthy and fit is important for a healthy lifestyle. You just have to be fit, it's not about being amazing at a sport, but about feeling good," he says.
His mother agrees and has seen the changes even in her own son. "Being active makes you much better mentally." Al Marri says he feels "sports give you a clearer mind".
Branford has seen Al Marri grow over the past year. "He's right on point for the competition." Branford says Al Marri is "a dream athlete for a coach", dedicated and hard-working. "Olympic lifting has made him mentally stronger since last year, it does that to you," he says.
He says the support of the government through Sheikh Majid is a vital step to raise the level of Emirati athletes and give them the support they need.
"Athletes have got to eat," he says. "Marwan is one of the first guys really making this push and these guys are getting serious because there's real money involved rather than this being some kind of hobby."
The three-day finals of the Dubai Fitness Competition will take place September 12 to 14. This year, 36 male and 36 female finalists will compete for the grand prize of Dh200,000, presented to the winner of each category (prizes are also awarded to all the finalists). For more information and to register before the September 7 deadline, visit dxbfitness.com