With her warm spirit, utter elegance, and modest smile, the absolutely charming seventy-year-old Sohair Al Attar walked into our office in her long yellow pants, forcing us to instantly fall in love with her. As humble as she is, you won’t tell that she’s a professional swimmer with countless medals and championships, a doctor, a university professor, a mother-of-two and a grandmother-of-four.
Since she was just six years old, Sohair would spend a lot of time playing in the water – until the swimming coach saw her and added her to the team. From then, she embarked on her journey and joined the Egyptian National Team and continued swimming until she was twenty- five . With her first ten years of marriage, she took a gap from swimming, until she realized she needed to go back to swimming.
“Because I have always loved sports, I felt like I am missing a very important thing in my life. At the beginning, going back was hard because I had the house responsibilities and my kids were younger. But later on, I was able to manage,” Sohair says.
Despite being a champ since childhood, Sohair was only able to compete internationally and represent Egypt through the Masters Swimming Program in 2004, when she was fifty-five years old. Yes, she started a whole new career in swimming at fifty five. Impressively, she participated in eleven international championships through which she won one gold medal in 2005, and a lot of silver medals, the latest being in the 2019 championship .
“At the beginning, my husband didn’t really understand why I go to the club on a daily basis . When he realized it doesn’t affect my family commitments, he became very supportive,” Sohair says, pointing out her family’s support.
Since Sohair has a lot more than usual on her plate, sports was what helped Sohair acquire her time management skills. “I would wake up before my children to run or swim at 4 am -two hours before they wake up. Then prepare them for school or training. And then teach at the university, go to the hospital, get the children back from their training, and then finally go home to sleep early,” Sohair says to the officially fangirling interviewer. Despite all her commitments, Sohair stressed that her family was always one of her top priorities, and she wouldn’t delegate her role to anyone else, including her mom .
Time management wasn’t the only thing that Sohair learned from sport s. Aging gracefully is another perk of swimming. “I am seventy years old, and I do things my children might not be able to do. Sports made me healthier than a lot of people my age. I advise everyone to play sports as much as they can. I always say if you are not capable of playing a sport, the least u can do is walk,” Sohair says.
At her compound, Sohair now makes sure there’s at least an hour in the afternoon for women to walk together. “At first, they didn’t really understand it, but now they get upset if I don’t tell them to walk. It’s now a known habit,” she adds . We bet you wish you lived in her compound too!
When asked about the stereotype affiliating athleticism with lack of femininity, Sohair completely rejected the notion emphasizing that sports make girls more elegant! “This stereotype is nonsense . I believe sports increases a woman’s femininity.
Super proud of what girls nowadays achieve in the sports arena, with examples like the star Farida Othman, Sohair recalled the time when she couldn’t represent the country abroad since women were not allowed, and hailed our current position with female representation in sports.
For Sohair, swimming and sports represent more than just what they seem. “At some point, one must have their own time. The only thing you do for yourself is sports. Nobody can really take it away from you. Nobody can take your health or achievements,” she says.
Three years ago, Sohair decided to go on pension and only stick with college, to enjoy life, do more sports, and enjoy her social life.
To all the women out there reading this, Sohair has a special message for you! “Forget your age. It’s OK for your age to play with your grandchildren, and live with them their age. Being old does not mean you cannot play or adapt with the youngsters . Age is just a number, not real. You define it, not the years.”