Siblings in Dubai break gruelling world record to spread message of inclusion

Tia and Rio Watson achieve fastest time for Olympic-distance triathlon while carrying a person

Tia Watson crossing the finish line with her brother to break a new world record. Photo: Team Angel Wolf
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It was almost 14 long weeks after Tia Watson, 16, achieved her dream of breaking a Guinness World Record that she got the official certificate. “It was emotional,” Tia's father, Nick Watson, tells The National. “It was quite tense, so when we finally got the confirmation, it was mostly a big relief on all parts.”

Tia, who lives with her family in Dubai, now has the record for “fastest time to complete an Olympic-distance triathlon while carrying a person”. She achieved this alongside her brother Rio, 20, who was born with a rare chromosome disorder called 1q44 deletion de novo syndrome that causes several disabilities.

To secure the title, Tia swam 1.5km while pulling Rio in a kayak, then cycled 40km on an adaptive bike that has a seat for her brother in the front, and finally ran 10km pushing him in a running chair.

Tia Watson swam 1.5km while pulling brother Rio in a kayak. Photo: Team Angel Wolf

It has been Tia’s dream to break a record since she was only 6 years old. “I was determined to complete one,” she tells The National. “When I race with Rio, I see how much it has impacted his life, being more included in the community, especially in a sport that he deeply loves. Inclusive racing is his true passion and purpose in life.

“Seeing him being involved in a sport and knowing he is happy, makes me so happy,” she adds.

Although this record was specifically created for Tia, the criteria from Guinness was strict. She had to be younger than Rio and weigh the same or less than him. They also asked the Watsons to set a time that would be enough of a challenge to make it all worth it. They chose three hours and 45 minutes. Tia had five minutes and 23 seconds left on the clock when she passed the finish line.

“On the day, me and the family were just trying to make sure they were safe,” says Nick. “It was only after that you really reflect on what she’s done and achieved. As a father, I don’t know if I can put it into words. I’m overwhelmed and super proud.”

As a former Royal Marine turned personal trainer and sports therapist, Nick is no stranger to extreme physical challenges. He’s also completed many races with Rio as part of awareness-raising activities for Team Angel Wolf, the family’s non-profit foundation in the UAE that promotes an inclusive, active life for all people of determination – or people with disabilities.

Tia Watson has wanted to break a record since she was six years old. Photo: Team Angel Wolf

“It’s become who we are and what we do,” he says. Over the summer, for example, Nick cycled 100km daily around Al Qudra Cycling Track with Rio for 30 days in a campaign called Ride with Rio. “Again to tell the story, to talk about inclusion, making sure everyone is welcome and equal. This is what we know and how we spread our message.”

It’s been nearly nine years since Team Angel Wolf was set up and the family began to use sport as a way to raise awareness of people like Rio with disabilities. When asked if he’s seen a difference in the UAE’s approach to inclusion since then, Nick says: “100 per cent, yes. We’re in the process of doing work with government entities here and it’s coming from the very top where inclusion is becoming high on the agenda, especially in sports and schools.

“The word inclusion is being used a lot more and people of determination are in the spotlight. Like with anything, it will take time, but the progress since Rio was born has been remarkable.”

Yet while government initiatives are important, Nick also emphasises the significance of individual efforts. “Start with terminology, how to address someone. My wife has the best quote: ‘Accessibility has to start at home.’ We need to be able to welcome our neighbours, our friends, to be inclusive.”

Naturally, Tia’s grown up with this message at home, while watching her father complete incredible feats for the cause and her mother Delphine always helping in the background. “Tia has seen us race, but never said she doesn’t want to do it herself, always the contrary. She’s jumped in there and I’ve kind of passed on the baton,” says Nick.

Tia now has her eyes on completing the 70.3 distance, or essentially a Half Ironman, which comprises a 1.9km swim, 90km bike ride and 21.1km run. But she has to wait until she’s 18 to do that – and she’ll do it with Rio, says Nick.

“Rio would not be the person he is today without Tia,” he adds. “When they race together, Rio is super-excited. They have their own little giggles, their own language and comments they share together. They spur each other on. As a dad, that’s magic.

“I could never dream that it could have unfolded like it has. It’s been a remarkable journey and probably the beginning of something special for Tia.”

Updated: September 07, 2023, 12:40 PM