Guest column: Founder of Minifit UAE and mum of four Clare Farrell on staying active in the long run
The best way to juggle keeping fit and spending time with the family is to make exercise a family activity.
My children are now aged 22, 20, 11 and 9, and I remember that when we first moved to Abu Dhabi 19 years ago we found the lovely family atmosphere of the local rugby team. It was very small – we played down by Mina Port, as we didn’t even have a pitch.
At first I watched my husband from the sidelines, then I started playing rugby too, although it was then quite unusual for women to play. I played rugby for six years, and represented the Gulf. It was a great way to travel – to Qatar, Muscat and even Hong Kong for the Sevens – and often the children joined us.
These days, Oliver, now 22, is a watersports instructor in Dubai, and Abagail, 20, is an animal trainer at Emirates Park Zoo. She rides horses to stay active.
I also used to play for the Gulf netball team. But, after having two more children, travel became more difficult, so I decided to focus on running marathons.
In 2012 my husband and I started doing triathlons because it was an easy way to combine our fitness goals and involve the children. We go cycling as a family, and when we go to the beach, we swim alongside the children. Now we do seven triathlons a year, as well as Ironman and half-Ironmans.
I was first in the Yas Triathlon this year for the age group 40-44, and at last year’s Ironman in Dubai I came second in my group, just missing out on being selected for the world championships. Next year I want to train harder to achieve that – it’s always about focusing on the next big challenge.
In my 20s I was probably faster, but now I’m 44, endurance-wise, I’m a lot fitter. I put in between one-and-a-half to two hours of training five or six times a week, and more leading up to the Ironman. Being a busy mum, exercise is my selfish time when I get to listen to music and zone out.
My husband Shaun is an ex-royal marine who is built like a rugby player, and because of his size, triathlon is not easy for him. But he has so much determination to finish, so I find him very inspiring. That’s what a triathlon is all about – it’s a family event, for all shapes and sizes. What motivates me is to set an example for my children. I’ve noticed a big apathy nowadays towards young children and exercise. I have worked as a teacher in nurseries for the past 17 years, and noticed a lack of emphasis on activities to get children active. So I developed my own curriculum to motivate children and teach them about diet and exercise.
Last year, I set up Minifit UAE, offering 30-minute active sessions for pre-schoolers, which I now operate in 10 nurseries in Abu Dhabi. The curriculum I developed encompasses all the active skills they need – balancing and tumbling, for example – and it’s all done to music.
Earlier this year, I also started a playgroup for mums and their little ones in Caterpillar Nursery in Khalifa City, with a big soft play gym area. With technology, children are becoming less inclined to move, but they’re born with a natural urge to get fit – and it’s important they hold on to that.
The mental strength you gain from physical challenges makes you a stronger person in other parts of your life, and triathlon makes me feel like I can do anything. I’m definitely more up for extreme sports – bungee jumping, surfing, flyboarding, jet skiing – none of which I would’ve tried 10 years ago. I think it’s more common now for women over 40 to embrace new sports. Although my mother does look at me and ask: “What are you doing at your age?”. I reply: “Why not?”
Before I was a mum, I was an individual with interests. I’m determined to keep it that way.
* As told to Jessica Hill
Published: September 19, 2016 04:00 AM