Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 16 December 2019

Abu Dhabi Triathlon: UAE's Faris Al Zaabi taking baby steps as a full-time athlete

Emirati continues his transition from academics to sports keeping steadfast focus on Olympic dream

Faris Al Zaabi will begin his 2019 campaign at the World Triathlon Abu Dhabi at the weekend. Leslie Pableo for The National
Faris Al Zaabi will begin his 2019 campaign at the World Triathlon Abu Dhabi at the weekend. Leslie Pableo for The National

Looking for job opportunities after earning a university degree – that is what most people do.

But Faris Al Zaabi is not 'most people', having opted for a full-time career in sports despite being accomplished in academics. The 26-year-old has a degree in Kinesiology from the University of Victoria, in Canada, but after spending five-and-a-half years studying he relocated to Europe to become a triathlete.

The Emirati will be seen in action at World Triathlon Abu Dhabi in Yas Marina, where he will compete in the age group category on Friday and Saturday.

“I picked up triathlon only two years ago and went full-time in August last year, so this is still quite new to me,” Al Zaabi told The National.

“I moved to Spain so I can focus on my triathlon development day in day out,” he said. “The plan this year is to take part in Abu Dhabi and then head back to Spain to continue with the triathlon season there."

Why Spain? "Triathlon in Spain is very popular and the level is very high. We race all over the country," he explained.

The elite field for the opening round of the ITU World Triathlon Series includes the likes of Antonio Serrat Seoane, who is a part of Al Zaabi’s training group coached by Omar Gonzalez. Spaniard Serrat Seoane is No 20 in the ITU World Rankings, and Al Zaabi says he is "fortunate to have some of the triathletes from my training group here".

“It would be a dream to one day go toe-to-toe with elite triathletes who are here to compete in Abu Dhabi. However, the main aim for me right now is to keep healthy and aim high this weekend.”

So what is the level of commitment required of a full-time sportsperson? Al Zaabi says he trains for an average of 20 to 30 hours a week for six to seven weeks in order to prepare for a competition.

But just as challenging for an upcoming sportsperson like himself is the financial commitment.

“My family supports me and I’m supporting myself,” he said in regard to his upkeep in Spain. “I hope local entities will support me but unfortunately that’s not the case at the moment."

Faris Al Zaabi, left, is joined by an elite field of triathletes in Abu Dhabi, including Katie Zaferes, Vicky Holland and Mario Mola. Leslie Pableo for The National
Faris Al Zaabi, left, is joined by an elite field of triathletes in Abu Dhabi, including Katie Zaferes, Vicky Holland and Mario Mola. Leslie Pableo for The National

Then there is the challenge of travel.

“I shuttle between the UAE and Spain," he said. "The preparation for the Abu Dhabi event started a long time ago. I just returned from a high-altitude training camp in Sierra Nevada in Spain."

Al Zaabi is no different from other athletes in that it is his long-term ambition to compete at the Olympic Games. The keyword here is 'long-term', and he knows it.

“You have to be realistic," he said about of this particular ambition. "The Olympics is no free ride. It’s about eight to 12 years of preparation."

Al Zaabi has no doubt the UAE has the talent to one day compete at the Olympics, but the challenge he says is to find and nurture them.

"In order for the UAE to be at that level, you need to start with the grassroots," he pointed out. “There needs be a nationwide talent identification process and long-term plans if the UAE need to go forward.

"There is nothing to be ashamed of to start from zero.”

Indeed, Al Zaabi has approached his own career with humility, which is why he is focused on ticking off his goals one at a time. His objective for 2019, for instance, is to compete in the August 29-September 1 ITU Grand Finale in Lausanne.

Aside from that, he is determined "to be healthy this year and aim for a continental title".

Updated: March 7, 2019 06:56 PM

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