x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Dubai ultraman: the superfit teacher inspiring pupils to be healthy

Dubai schoolteacher Edward Hawkins leads by example, plans to spread the message of fitness by swimming, biking and running a doube marathon.

Grade 5 Repton School students watch Edward Hawkins complete a lap.
Grade 5 Repton School students watch Edward Hawkins complete a lap.

DUBAI // There has to be an easier way to spread the message of healthy living than swimming 10 kilometres, cycling 450km and then completing two marathons back to back.

But for Dubai schoolteacher Edward Hawkins, it is all about the challenge and passing on to his pupils, and in turn their parents, the lesson of good health.

"I do triathlons and Ironmans with the kids in the school," said Mr Hawkins, 37. "We've already seen 10 to 15 families getting active. The kids now want to go out on their bikes or get active and the parents follow.

"It's using the kids as a voice and when they go home they talk about it. We've had some talks from the staff to the children about healthy living and lifestyle and how they should lead it this week.

"They'll go home and reflect it back to the parents, and some of the parents are taking part in the 10km race" at the Dubai Marathon tomorrow.

Yesterday, Mr Hawkins completed a 10km swim and cycled 174km to begin his Ultraman challenge. Today he will cycle another 276km and tomorrow he will run two marathons.

Even with nine Ironman races under his belt, he will be on his last legs as he takes his place among hundreds of well-rested, primed runners.

Mr Hawkins will first run from his house in The Springs to the Repton School Dubai, which is exactly 42km. Then he will drive to the starting line for the Dubai event.

The Briton has been spreading the message of healthy living and diabetes prevention to his pupils at the Repton School Dubai, who have taken on their own challenge.

They have been swimming all week and yesterday took part in a 2km walk. Now the youngsters are entering aquathlons, which are swimming and running events.

"They are entering as individuals but we have between 20 to 30 pupils taking part," Mr Hawkins said.

"It's all coming from this healthy living and lifestyle message we've got them into."

Johnnie Kittermaster, head of Repton Junior School Dubai, said the message fits with the school's mission of promoting healthy living at an early age.

The school is adding up the number of kilometres covered by each pupil, setting them the goal of covering the distance between Repton Dubai and Repton UK.

Eloise Stewart Richardson had been swimming all week and took part in the 2km walk.

Mr Hawkins "is doing an amazing job in a crazy way", said Eloise, 10. "It's a good way to put the message out there."

Emilie Eaves, 9, who was also swimming and walking, said she had competed in mini-triathlons because of her teacher's influence.

Both girls said they would like to try an Ironman in a few years.

"I know what it's like to push myself for nine hours and be on the end of the envelope," Mr Hawkins said.

"I genuinely feel I am going back five years and doing my first Ironman. I don't know how it will go."

To get him through the challenge, he breaks up the distances in his mind.

He thought of the swim as 2.5km segments rather than one stretch of 10km.

"I've never run further than 42km," Mr Hawkins said. "I've broken it into eight lots of 10.5km. Each time I'll stop and take something proper on board and psychologically it makes it easier to deal with."

Instead of the usual energy gels endurance athletes take, Mr Hawkins plans to eat peanut butter and jam sandwiches because he is trying to keep his heart rate low, at 140 beats a minute.

Tonight he will be aching from the bike ride and will have to reduce the swelling in his joints to get some much-needed rest.

By the time the Dubai Marathon comes around tomorrow, his expects his feet will have swollen by one full shoe size, and he has a spare pair of trainers at the ready.

"I really don't know how I'll feel at the end. It'll be like how I feel after an Ironman but I'm worried what my feet will be like," he said.

"I'll be a bit relieved and a bit empty at the same time. I've been there before, but I certainly know I have work on Sunday morning."

eharnan@thenational.ae