The UAE couples making getting fit a fun activity for the whole family

'One of the most obvious benefits of training as a family is feeling motivated and being able to motivate others,' says extreme athlete Marcus Smith

Mamta Daryani has extensively hiked in India, Nepal and the UAE, along with her family, including her son, Adonis, seen here.   
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Although they were rejected last minute from the Ironman 2021 race held in Dubai last month, a fitness-orientated family of four, better known as Team Angel Wolf, did not let this bring them down.

Instead, they created their own race, called Rio’s Run, in honour of Rio Watson, 17, who has a rare disease, Q44 Deletion De Novo, which impedes his ability to walk and speak.

This month, Rio’s father, Nick Watson, swam 1.9 kilometres as he pulled Rio in a kayak, cycled 90km with Rio in an adapted bike and ran 21km while pushing his son in his specialised chair.

The Watsons – Nick, his wife, Delphine and their children, Rio and Tia – are among a growing number of families in the UAE who are working on their fitness goals together.

Marcus Smith, an extreme athlete and founder of InnerFight gym in Dubai Studio City, says: “One of the most obvious benefits of training as a family is feeling motivated and being able to motivate others.

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I had [suffered] from back pain and severe obesity, so I started swimming, walking and taking part in 5km runs

“In my experience, groups that are ‘in it together’ feel better connected and have a better sense of responsibility to the end goal as they don’t want to let anyone down. There is a special type of commitment that can develop in families who train in a fitness class or compete in an endurance event. By honing these skills at a young age, and having parents who display these traits regularly, you’ll be setting your child up for a life of success.”

While Team Angel Wolf have been a firm fixture on the UAE’s fitness scene for almost a decade now, The National catches up with some other families, who offer tales of inspiration, encouragement and awe.

Variety is key for Team Al Majar

The Al Majars participate in numerous races together.

This Irish-Emirati family of four are on a mission to get fit and healthy, thanks in large part to mum, Zoe Al Majar, who is the driving force behind them all. Born and raised in Ireland, Zoe, who works as a purchase officer in Dubai, met her Emirati husband, Khalid, when she moved to the UAE.

But it was after the birth of their first child, Afraa, that Zoe, a keen horse rider, decided to take charge of her health once again. “I had [suffered] from back pain and severe obesity, as I weighed about 120 kilograms at one point. So, I started swimming, walking and taking part in 5km runs,” she says.

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Mamta and I get up by 5am on most days and earlier on weekends. Our Friday morning ritual involves running with the Dubai Creek Striders

Her enthusiasm for fitness soon took over her life as well as her family’s, as they realised how much it helped them to bond. Citing Team Angel Wolf’s YouTube channel as their inspiration, the Al Majars began triathlon training, and started running, cycling and swimming together.

“Sundays are typically Team Angel Wolf family walk evenings. Monday night is run club with Lee Harris. Tuesday afternoon is swim day for Afraa at Urban Energy Fitness and a cycle night for Khalid and I,” says Zoe.

“Wednesday evening is my swim night at Urban. Thursday is typically a rest evening and then the weekend comes. Friday morning can start as early as 3am, depending on if Khalid and I are doing a long cycle or Afraa and I are racing. Then Saturday is exactly the same, except we have Sharm Circus School for [the couple’s second child] Osha in the afternoon and OCR Nation training for Afraa in the evening.”

Zoe Al Majar struggled with obesity after the birth of her first child, but has since taken up fitness in a big way alongside her husband Khalid and children Afra, seen here, and Osha.

Zoe also begins her weekdays at 5am and tries to get in a training session – a run, swim or bike – before heading to work at 8am.

Just keep moving with Team Kaddoura

While the desire to become and remain healthy inspired the Al Majars to focus on fitness, it was Tania Lolla Kaddoura’s love for sports that formed the basis of her family’s fitness routine. Tania is a fitness trainer with an MSc in sports physiotherapy, and she believes that having fun together is as important as a family working on its fitness as one unit.

“Activity with the family is a daily routine; it varies from walking, to our preferred weekend family runs with Noah on Friday and basketball night on Saturday,” she says.

Tania Lolla Kaddoura and her husband, Mohamed, involve their toddler Noah in as many activities as possible.

Noah, her 1-year-old son, usually wakes up Tania and her husband, Mohamed, at 5am, she says. “The day starts with a light bite of fruit or an oat yoghurt and a glass of water. Then around 6.30am, round one of our daily brisk walks around the neighbourhood begins, with Noah in his stroller,” says Tania. In the evenings, the family head out again for another walk around the block and a pit stop at the community playground.

While most of the workouts Tania and Mohamed have planned include baby Noah, they also take part in couples' workouts. Although it is challenging to do so with a baby at home, they engage in a body weight workout at least once a week, including a routine that takes in synchronised push-ups, squats, burpees, planks and other variations of HIIT circuits.

The Kaddouras also take time for couples' workouts.

Tania reiterates that they have the most fun when Noah is part of their workout. She is a firm believer that children can be engaged in fitness early on. “And trust me, they will catch on,” she says.

Last year, after stay-at-home measures were imposed, Team Kaddoura created an obstacle course race on their balcony and took part in the first Spartan Virtual Trifecta World Championship.

Race to the top with Team Daryani

Rajesh and Mamta Daryani with their children, Advika and Adonis, trekking at the Annapurna Base Camp in Nepal.

Rajesh and Mamta Daryani are another couple who lead their children by example when it comes to fitness. Parents to Advika and Adonis, the Daryanis are popularly known as the "barefoot-running couple" in their community.

The family of four often take part in racing and hiking events around the world. Rajesh, who runs a construction business, began running only in his thirties. Surprised by her husband’s renewed energy, Mamta caught on in 2011, while Adonis, then aged 1, was still in his pushchair.

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Families who compete as a team emphasise the importance of navigating both success and failure in life

The family’s first hike came in 2012, when they traversed the mountains of Leh in North India. “Nepal is our favourite destination. In 2018, we went up to enjoy the Everest view in Sagarmatha National Park, which is at an altitude of 4,000 metres. In 2019, we trekked at Annapurna Base Camp for eight days, up to an altitude of 4,200 metres,” says Rajesh.

With travel restrictions in place since last year, the family started hiking in the Hajar Mountains in the UAE, and have since explored many scenic trekking spots around the Emirates.

“Mamta and I get up by 5am on most days and earlier on weekends. Our Friday morning ritual involves running with the Dubai Creek Striders. On weekdays, we either run, bike or do yoga before 7am. On school days, Advika skates or does yoga with her favourite teacher on YouTube. Adonis plays cricket twice a week, and occasionally runs and plays badminton with Mamta,” says Rajesh.

At club events and races, Adonis and Advika actively volunteer at support stations. In 2018, the family switched to vegetarian food and have even reduced their consumption of dairy products.

Working out with your family can be a wonderful bonding opportunity, explains Kundalini yoga teacher Nancy Zabaneh, as this allows people to relieve stress, build stamina and grow closer.

“Aside from the obvious benefits associated with health, well-being and life-skill development, taking part in a physical activity strengthens family bonds. When we work out together or share any kind of practice as a group or as a family, we also balance each other’s energies,” Zabaneh says.

“Besides, families who compete as a team emphasise the importance of navigating both success and failure in life. Co-operation and collaboration are also fundamental to learning, as empathy and the ability to communicate are further developed.”