Have you ever been hesitant to ask someone about their age? It might just be the elephant in the room. Well, maybe it won’t be when we you are talking to confident, triumph-oriented female athletes who found new freedom in their older age, and are proud of the number 50+, 60+ and 70+ year young.
With their swimming suits, cycling gears, and pointed ballet shoes, we met with three remarkable women who range from forty-nine to seventy-six years. The three wonder women pursued sports at a later stage in their lives, proving that when persistence and strong will come together magic happens.
These women are living proof that age doesn’t stop one from pursuing their dreams. On the contrary, they actually discovered –or reignited– their passion for swimming, ballet and triathlon much later in life than one would expect. Yes, touch wood!
Nagwa Ghorab: Diving Back into the pool at 76
It all started when almost seventy-seven-year-old International Masters Team swimming champion Nagwa Ghorab retired from her teaching job, and decided to dive back into the Olympian pool at sixty.
On the morning that we meet her for the cover shoot, she walks in with her athletic wear, and casually opens a backpack full of countless medals, certificates and shields. Nagwa’s feisty and positive character is complimented with her resistance and charisma, leaving everyone stunned and inspired by the seventy-six-year-old champion’s many wonders.
Nagwa’s spark ignited at sixty. She believes retirement was the chance she was waiting for. “I was waiting to retire. The sky is the limit now that I have less responsibilities. So why stop competing? To me, sixty was not the age of retirement: it was the age of freedom and accomplishments,” Nagwa says.
Accomplishing impressive feats locally and internationally, Nagwa Ghorab competed in six world championships for seniors –and won eleven international medals. “My first world championship was in 2010, and I was sixty-eight years at the time.” Nagwa, who loves a challenge, also competed in France’s National Championship for Seniors, and won gold medals two times.
“I was the only foreigner who participated in the Nationwide 2016 U.S. Masters Swimming Championship, and I got three medals. I was very happy with the silver medal for the fifty-meter backstroke competition in specific,” Nagwa adds.
Challenges do arise even for champs like Nagwa, except she doesn’t let them get in her way. In South Korea’s world championship, it was a fierce competition. She was hoping she would get just one medal, but she got four medals. “This time not only did I smile when I was on the stage getting awarded the medals, I danced in celebration on the stage,” Nagwa adds.
Chatting with Nagwa about her many accomplishments, not only does she prove that age is really just a number, she always stresses on how she thinks it’s necessary for people –and the media in specific– to mention her age as part of her story, as this is something she takes pride in. “I got a standing ovation after I received the silver medal when I was in the French Championship in 2011. I wanted people to know that I am taking this seriously to represent Egypt properly. At my age –and with my training– I can compete and I can win,” Nagwa says.
“I got a standing ovation after I received the silver medal when I was in the French Championship in 2011. I wanted people to know that I am taking this seriously to represent Egypt properly. At my age –and with my training– I can compete and I can win,”
Nagwa is living proof that positivity, commitment, passion, resistance and strong faith in her capabilities can make wonders.
Being called “Nagwa the Rebel” when she competes in France, Nagwa adds, ”When I competed in Europe I wanted to change how some European countries view Egyptian women. I wanted to show them what Egyptian women my age could do,” Nagwa says.
Behind the scenes of this success, comes determination and strong will. Nagwa trains a lot for months to prepare for joining a championship. It’s important for her that she trains only in Egypt and by Egyptian trainers.
“I want to thank Dr. Ahmad El Kady, my trainer. He is behind everything I reached,” Nagwa adds.
On the journey to success, Nagwa inspires so many people who watch her on television, and believe she proves nothing is too late. ”When I was in Korea and I met a fellow Egyptian forty-year-old swimmer, he said he returned to swimming because of me when he saw me on TV with Mona El Shazly,” Nagwa says.
Nagwa is a mother of three and she must be a pride to them and to her grandkids, like she is to many Egyptians. “I believe I bring happiness not only to my grandkids. I love it when my neighbors and security guards at the Heliopolis Sporting Club congratulate me, and flatter me with their comments.”
Nagwa leaves a strong influence even on everyday women she meets on the street, “I was once at the bank and a woman approached me to say thank you. She explained that she was sick, and the period of illness was long because she has an illusion of illness –and gave up on life. “Once I saw you on TV, I changed my mind about aging,” Nagwa says.
Nagwa’s heartwarming personality and genuine belief in God’s plan takes over her character. She mentions how her daughter once wondered how will she compete at this age, and asked her what happens if she gets sick when competing abroad alone. “I told her that anything can happen according to God’s plan, and nothing can stop fate,” Nagwa adds.
Being a role model to everyone, but especially to women over fifty –who just got their inspiration dose for today– Nagwa Ghorab sends a message to all women: “Don’t let negative comments about what you should and shouldn’t do after fifty get to you. Stay strong and pursue your dreams!”
The Iron Woman:
53 year old Triathlon champ, Amany Khalil
Amany is the first Egyptian woman above fifty to compete in –and finish– the Ironman Triathlon Race in Barcelona, Spain on October 2nd, 2016. “The first time for me to practice triathlon was when I was forty-seven years old,” Amany says.rom a 180.25 km bicycle ride, to a 242.20 km marathon run and a 3.86 km swim without a break, Amany Khalil, fifty-three, triathlon champ, races against all expectations of what a woman in her fifties, who comes from a banking background, can achieve.
Mastering swimming, cycling, and running, Amany the multi-tasker began her journey with running. When Amany lived in the U.S. she was surprised to see people running and jogging in the street, unlike here.
Amany saw that the runners were fit and happy, and she admired that. “I gave it a try and went on a one-hour run in the morning, while the kids are asleep,” Amany says.
The group of youth that Amany trained with believed in her and encouraged her. “They could have said that a mum was coming to train with them, but they saw how serious I was about competing and my passion,” Amany says.
Amany first enrolled in Sahl Hashesh triathlons , then the half iron man race in Barcelona. “I didn’t win the half ironman race, by the way, in the beginning. Then I started training with a professional trainer. I managed to win, and then after made the full iron man race,” Amany says.
Standing by her side till the finishing line is Amany’s family. Amany is the mother of two boys, and she believes her family is one of the strong reasons behind her success. “During my first marathon, my children were about three and one and a half years old. At 6 am, my husband, my kids and my parents-in-law came in the morning to drop me off to the marathon; they really got my back,” Amany says.
On the pathway to success, Amany believes her trainer was the biggest supporter. “She is the first Egyptian woman to do the Iron Man. When I got introduced, I told her how much it affected me that I didn’t win the first try of the half iron man race. She enriched me with her experience. She wanted to see me achieving what she has already achieved,” adds Amany.
Commenting on the culture of running or playing sports on the street in Egypt versus the U.S., Amany remembers how people told her that we were not accustomed to seeing people running in the street, especially women. “I got to run in the streets. Yes, there are verbal harassment comments sometimes, and dogs run after me, but I did it.”
Amany doesn’t get affected by the negative comments she sometimes gets such as “Don’t you feel old doing this?” and “What are you running after?”. “During my iron man training, sometimes I had to train along in the street. I got a lot of verbal harassments from bus drivers when I am on the bike, asking me if I were a man or a woman. Thank God, when the triathlons got popular, people started riding bikes and women are also doing it,” Amany adds.
Amany the multi-tasker continues to inspire, and comments about aging for women. “Everyone who knows my age gets shocked. No plastic surgery or pills. The most important thing to age gracefully is sports. Sports bring happiness.”
Sending a heartfelt message to women everywhere, Amany says, “Nobody should be bound by age. We have inspiring examples of female athletes from different age groups, like Farida Osman, Nagwa Ghorab and many others.”
“Nobody should be bound by age.”
“They are women, they are competing, they are challenging themselves, they have jobs and families, but they look at life from a different perspective. After marriage and after getting older, they did what they thought was impossible,” Amany concludes.
Dalia Akram on Becoming a Ballerina at 49
Dancing her fears away, Dalia Akram, forty-nine, is all about grace and tenacity. The multi-talented Dalia decided to join an adult ballet class in her forties, even though as a little girl she never practiced ballet.
“It started when I was at the gym and I came across an adult ballet class, and that was something that I had always wanted to do as a kid. I asked them if I could qualify in my early forties, and they said yes,” Dalia adds.
“I came across an adult ballet class, and that was something that I had always wanted to do as a kid. I asked them if I could qualify in my early forties, and they said yes”
Dalia has a full, productive life being a professor and teaching at university. Yet she was seized by the notion that she can dance ballet –a long-awaited moment for her.
Not starting to learn ballet when she was a little girl might be just the engine Dalia needed to pursue her dream of being a ballerina. “When I was a little girl my father wasn’t in favor of me learning ballet. He thought it might make a girl’s body look muscular or unfeminine. So I didn’t learn,” She says.
When it comes to the steps Dalia took to become a ballerina, she believes it takes time and patience. “You definitely take time to learn every single move.” Doing just one move in ballet takes a lot to get the posture right. This is in addition to getting the tiptoes, feet, legs, elevation and fingers right and synchronized together,” Dalia says.
Dalia took Adult Ballet private lessons at Life Up Egypt’s Adult ballet Studio and noticed that she developed very quickly, “When I started learning ballet, my trainer at Life Up’s Ballet School gave me a confidence boost and was very supportive.”
Some people think ballet in specific is something that should be practiced since childhood, but Dalia and women like her prove that age is no barrier.
“I don’t receive negative comments to be honest because I don’t share much. Maybe just one person commented “Ballet at that age?” and I didn’t care,” Dalia says.
Dalia tells us that this belief that when a human reaches a certain age they can’t do something specific is destructive. Such beliefs affect our lives; it affected people, it hindered their progress, it made them retreat back in frustration. “I think people’s mindset has evolved and their take on aging has changed. I just saw a ballerina granny dancing with her grandson. She did a lot of difficult moves that a twenty-year-old cannot do,” Dalia adds.
Being the fast learner that she is, Dalia tells us she wants to continue sprouting at ballet, and one day soon she hopes she can choreograph her own ballet dance from start to finish and perform it with no mistakes. Maybe even with a fusion of contemporary!