Guest column: Founder of Minifit UAE and mum of four Clare Farrell on staying active in the long run

In 2012 my husband and I started doing triathlons because it was an easy way to combine our fitness goals and involve the children.
Mum-of-four Clare Farrell is the founder of Minifit UAE, a company that provides fun fitness sessions for children at nurseries in Abu Dhabi. Reem Mohammed / The National
Mum-of-four Clare Farrell is the founder of Minifit UAE, a company that provides fun fitness sessions for children at nurseries in Abu Dhabi. Reem Mohammed / The National

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

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