x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Jordanian sisters set sights high

Dima and Lama Hattab are hoping to be the first twin sisters to conquer the world's highest mountain.

Jordanian twins Dima (left) and Lama Hattab exercise in Amman as they prepare for their latest challenge: climbing Mt Everest.
Jordanian twins Dima (left) and Lama Hattab exercise in Amman as they prepare for their latest challenge: climbing Mt Everest.

AMMAN // Jordanians Dima and Lama Hattab are hoping to be the first twin sisters to conquer the world's highest mountain - but are struggling to find the funding for their adventure in a country that does not have a tradition of professional female athletes. The twins, 27, are no strangers to extreme sport. They have run ultra-marathons, some more than 560km, across Europe, scaled peaks in Jordan and Alaska and now have their sights set on Mt Everest.

If they make it, they will follow in the footsteps of Mustafa Salameh, who reached the top on May 25, becoming the first Jordanian and fifth Arab to reach the summit. "We call ourselves unlimited twins because there are no limits to our ambitions. We want to set a record as the first twin sisters to climb Everest," Dima said. The twins, both IT graduates, entertained the idea of climbing Everest three years ago, when ultra-marathons no longer presented a challenge.

"We know that it is a risky adventure. People told us that we were crazy when we used to run long-distance marathons, but now they tell us that we are even crazier," said Lama. Since childhood, the twins have been obsessed with sport. They recall cycling and running with the kids in their neighbourhood in Tabarbour, on the outskirts of Amman. Then at school, their sport teachers encouraged them to take part in school races, in which they excelled, and eventually they moved on to ultra-marathons.

Now their eyes are set on Mt Everest. But the biggest challenge the twins are facing now is to secure the US$750,000 (Dh2.75m) needed for their expedition, which is proving difficult in a male-dominated society. The twins say that society does not expect women to succeed in challenging expeditions. "We even tried to reach the Higher Council of Youth and presented our proposal, but our request was ignored," Dima said.

Dima and Lama have also knocked on the doors of major companies in Jordan asking for sponsorship, but many told them that they did not support sport activities. "We need a chance to prove ourselves, to prove to the world what Arab women are capable of," Lama said. Qamar Majali, who heads the women's federation for cycling, believes that although there is no discrimination against women in sport in Jordan, getting sponsorship for them is nearly impossible.

"Companies do not like to sponsor women. They have a perception that women cannot succeed in sport contests," she said. Still, women in Jordan who excel in sport are not criticised, as they are in some other Arab countries. Should the twins succeed they will join a small number of Arab women to have won fame through sport, a group which includes Princess Haya, the wife of Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashed, the Crown Prince of Dubai. She was the youngest Arab athlete ever to compete in an equestrian discipline, and the first Arab woman and first member of an Arab royal family to compete in the Olympic games.

Some women in Jordan have recently taken up sport that were once traditionally preserved for men, such as boxing. And each year, scores of Jordanians take part in a 50km Dead Sea marathon, with men running side by side with women. Although they have yet to find their sponsorship, the twin sisters are not about to give up. In fact they have prepared a busy schedule for this year. In the run-up to their expedition, the sisters exercise on average three hours a day, alternating between running, cycling and sometimes mountain climbing in Wadi Rum, 330km south of Amman, an area that boasts the highest mountains in Jordan with an altitude of more than 1,700 metres.

In February last year, the sisters joined a 10-day survivor course in Alaska where they learned how to adjust to the altitudes, to trek the mountains while carrying a 12kg-15kg pack, and how to avoid frostbite in a windy, harsh environment where temperatures near the 8,850 metre-summit may range between -20°C to -30°C. As climbers burn up about 6,000 calories a day on the mountain, the sisters were advised to eat plenty of biscuits and chocolate to help preserve their energy.

"We climbed three mountains there, the highest was 3,900 metres. And we wanted to see if we can take it, but it wasn't that difficult," Dima said. If they secure funding, the sisters will keep up their intense training schedule. They plan to conquer Mt Kilimanjaro, the highest peak in Africa at 5,895 metres above sea level, the 4,810-metre Mt Blanc in the Alps, the 4,634-metre Monte Rosa in Switzerland, Denali in Alaska at a height of 6,194 metres, Aconcagua, the highest in the Americas at 6,962 metres, and Mt Cho-oyu in Tibet at 8,201 metres.

A Canadian filmmaker and his team are expected to follow their journey. If all goes to plan, they will head to Nepal next March and be at the top of Everest by May. After conquering Everest, the twins have a new quest on their minds; car rallies. @Email:smaayeh@thenational.ae