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FitnessAziza Sbaity, the fastest woman in Lebanon

Aziza Sbaity is the fastest woman in Lebanon, but her journey of breaking records has been filled with challenges. It started as a child, fleeing her mother’s war-torn country of Liberia. Then there was the racism she experienced during her first years in the country, and the injuries that have hampered her performance in sports. Aziza tells the Livehealthy Arabic Podcast about how she overcame them all — and about what she plans to do...
Lina ElmusaDecember 22, 202112 min
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SbaityImage courtesy of Aziza Sbaity

Aziza Sbaity is the fastest woman in Lebanon, but her journey of breaking records has been filled with challenges. It started as a child, fleeing her mother’s war-torn country of Liberia. Then there was the racism she experienced during her first years in the country, and the injuries that have hampered her performance in sports. Aziza tells the Livehealthy Arabic Podcast about how she overcame them all — and about what she plans to do next.

How did you move from business to sports?

I have been practicing sports since I was very young and living in Liberia. At the age of 11 I moved to Lebanon, where I completed my studies in one of the schools there. I participated in many sports challenges, and I had my first experience running. At that time, one of the coaches discovered my talent when I surpassed all my peers, both girls and boys.

When I graduated, I went to one of the big clubs in Lebanon to train in the sport of athletics and was chosen to represent the Lebanese national team in the Francophone Games that same year. That’s when my pursuit of athletics became serious. I completed my university studies with a major in business administration, and I am currently pursuing a higher university degree in the United States in sports management.

What particular challenges do Arab athletes face?

Unfortunately, in the Arab world, there is not enough attention given to athletes, like there is in Western countries. For example, Arab athletes do not receive financial compensation, while sports is an industry in other countries, and people can make a sport their profession. Athletes practice sports like other professions, and should be paid for it. In Western schools and universities, special scholarships are given to adopt sports talents, like other artistic and musical talents, to help these talented people move forward and improve.

For instance, Mutaz Essa Barshim is a famous athlete in the high jump and has put Qatar’s name on the Olympics map. This is where the role of parents becomes very important in refining their child’s talent. The support and faith children receive leads to the motivation to refine their talent to reach a goal. It is important that parents also focus on their kids’ schooling and academics. Academics do not prevent sports and talent from developing side by side.

What are some challenges and difficulties you faced?     

I faced many challenges, and suffered many injuries during my athletic journey, but that never stopped me from continuing my pursuit of an athletic career. [While she expected to be nominated to compete for Lebanon in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, but did not get the opportunity to do so] Disappointments will not stop me from having hope and achieving my dream and goal to win more championships and challenges, and I have many goals that I strive to achieve.

What is your training schedule?

I train three times a day, once in the gym for weightlifting; two to three hours), then I do different exercises on the track, from long jogging and short sprinting to stair climbing or jumping; two to three hours). My third training is in how to avoid mistakes that could expose me to injuries —  one hour — and I do physical therapy. Working in sports is a full-time job for me. I am constantly working on improving my fitness level to reach my goals, and break more records.

Women may struggle when they reach a certain age and consider whether they should continue their sports careers or stop at a certain age. I am now 29 years old; when I was younger, I thought that by the time I reached this age I would stop and return to ‘normal life’, but I feel that I am going through the best period I’ve been through with my body now. I am at the top of my physical strength and my performance is constantly improving. During this year I broke the record for the 100 metres twice in two weeks, 200 meters indoor, 60 metres also indoors, and 300 meters as well. My goal now is to break the record of 200 metres outdoors. I keep feeling stronger.

Is there racism in competition, too?

I was representing Lebanon in a championship held in Tunisia. I won third place in the 100-meter race, and fourth place in the 200-meter race, and the Lebanese team won third place in the wildcard race (four people from a specific country race against four people from another country). Lebanon is known not to have a lot of diversity in terms of skin color. When I arrived at the airport in Lebanon from Tunisia, the person responsible for stamping passports was surprised by my color and thought that my passport did not belong to me, and she asked me many questions and did not believe that I was Lebanese. This is one of the racist situations that I face almost daily, and which I have faced since my childhood, but practicing sports and this talent made me special and helped me build my self-confidence.

I love my country, being an athlete, and representing Lebanon. In the Arab world, we suffer from racism and the use of wrong terminology, for example many people call people with dark skin “slaves”. Since I represent Lebanon in many sports tournaments, I have been able to highlight the diversity of Arabs skin color and abilities. I talk about this topic to help, even in a small way, our nations overcome this racism.

What advice do you have for up-and-coming track stars?

First, I would like to address a word to the parents. No child can reach their goal if they do not receive help and support from their family. It is the responsibility of the parents to provide support and encouragement, in addition to teaching them the correct values ​​and behaviors to build and establish a good personality in their children. There is no child who hates if they do not does not see this hate from their family.

As for my advice to girls and boys, if they love a particular sport, they should persevere, exercise hard, and not give up to improve their level and reach their goal. The results they see are the greatest happiness that they can obtain.

• Aziza Sbaity was also guest on The Livehealthy Podcast September 15, 2021. 

Lina Elmusa

Lina Elmusa is a literature and coffee lover. She tries to understand the world through language. She's currently exploring the world of media at livehealthy.ae.

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