Manon Ouaiss was just three years old when she first hit the slopes. Now the 21-year old is representing her country on the international stage at the Winter Olympics in Beijing.
“I started skiing as soon as I learnt how to walk," the Lebanese athlete told The National.
Her parents would often take her and her siblings skiing in Lebanon’s mountains to get them acquainted with the sport, but as she grew older, it turned into something more.
“It became a passion,” she said. "A way of life."
Ouaiss is one of three Lebanese athletes competing at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, but the Games are not the only milestone on her resume.
She won a silver medal at the 2016 Asian Alpine Ski Championships, and three gold medals at the 2021 Alpine Skiing Small Evolving Ski Nations Cup. Ouaiss also represented Lebanon at the 2018 FIS Junior World Ski Championships and the 2019 and 2021 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships.
The 2022 Winter Olympic Games kicked off on February 4, and although Ouaiss placed 46th in the Womens' slalom and did not finish in the Women's Giant Slalom this week, she has loved every moment of the experience.
“It’s very exciting but also very stressful to be here,” she said. “And it’s an honour to be representing my country.”
An Olympic dream
Ouaiss was born in Lebanon and spent 15 years of her life skiing on the country’s slopes. At the age of 18, she moved to France to pursue undergraduate studies in law, where she also joined a private skiing team.
“I can’t describe the feeling when I’m on the slopes,” Ouaiss said. “I just love the adrenalin rush it brings.”
For years, the young athlete competed at regional and world championships, where she earned her numerous titles.
But her heart yearned for more.
“I wanted to take things to the next level," she said.
“The Olympics were my dream and I wanted to make it come true.”
Her first attempt at qualifying for the Winter Olympics in 2018 ended with a broken collarbone and a complete ligament tear, which exacted a mental and physical toll and cut her out of the race.
“It was really hard,” Ouaiss told The National. "I saw my dream vanish in front of me."
Still, the young athlete was determined not to let anything get in her way.
A comeback fuelled by national pride
Several operations later, Ouaiss said she "came back stronger", and resumed training for the 2022 Games.
Juggling her work, studies and passion was not an easy task. “It requires a lot of discipline and plenty of sacrifices,” she told The National. “But it’s all worth it.”
A lack of state support was yet another obstacle standing between Ouaiss and her ambitions. Circumstances in crisis-hit Lebanon are less than ideal for yearning Olympians, so financing comes "out of our own pockets", she said.
“When almost three quarters of the population is deprived of basic necessities, funding athletes is not going to be a priority for the state, which I completely understand,” Ouaiss said.
"This is why it's great to see Lebanese compete in global sports competitions, it's a huge achievement."
A strong support unit
Ouaiss' family are some of her biggest supporters. Watching her race from their home in Beirut, they expressed immense pride in seeing their only daughter compete at the world stage.
"She's living her dream," said her mother, Lorraine Ouaiss. "I'm so, so happy for her."
Despite not making the medal table, Ouaiss has succeeded in her ultimate mission to prove how the challenges and the lows of any sport can help push one forward.
“Every time I stumbled, I stood back up,” she said. “This got me to the Olympics and I couldn’t be more proud.”
Stepping into the Olympic Village and meeting athletes from all over the world is one of many perks that Ouaiss is enjoying during her time in Beijing.
Despite the competition, a friendly ambiance is dominant, she said.
"Everyone is so warm and hearty here, it's been a perfect experience."
Off the slopes, Ouaiss is making the most of her dream come true, but when at the top of the slopes, she has one thing in mind.
“I want to put Lebanon on the map. I want to show the world we’re more than our troubles, and we have a lot to offer.”