Three Emiratis and one Irish expatriate begin a quest to be counted as the Fittest on Earth in the CrossFit Games in Madison, Wisconsin this weekend.
A Dubai police officer and three CrossFit trainers are excited to compete against 40 of the world’s best teams in a competition that will run until Sunday.
Officials expect more than 10,000 fans to gather in Wisconsin to watch the competition each day.
The in-person event was cancelled in Madison last year owing to the Covid-19 pandemic and a smaller event with fewer athletes was held in California.
Bader Al Noori, a first lieutenant with the Dubai Police and team captain, said representing the region was well worth the challenge of balancing work and training during the pandemic.
“It is the first time Arab nationals or Emiratis have made it to the CrossFit Games as a team,” the 30-year-old told The National during a break in training.
The rules stipulate that the team consist of at least two men and two women.
There have previously been individual Arab athletes who represented their country and expatriate teams who performed well.
Team Dubai competed against teams in Russia, Japan and Korea during three regional stages leading to the final. Owing to Covid restrictions, all workouts were submitted on video.
It is a proud moment for Emirati athlete Shahad Budebs, 26, the UAE national CrossFit champion.
“I’m so proud we are here as the first Arabs to reach the team games,” she said. “It’s huge for us. We are not only representing ourselves but representing the region.”
She also had a message for women in the Middle East to compete at the highest levels of sport, regardless of what they wear.
“What I’m saying to Arab girls and women, 'is don’t be afraid of comments that because we are covered we can’t play some games'.
“If other women can reach this level why can’t we. We can have the courage to show the world that we are Arab women and nothing can stop us.
“It doesn’t matter if you are covered or not, it’s only cloth. It is your hard work, commitment and dedication that will shine through – that’s what I’m saying.”
As a member of the UAE national football team for years, she has often taken on misplaced notions that high-intensity training has an adverse effect on a woman’s body
“I want to send a message that they don’t have to think of it as a guy’s sport or be afraid their bodies will change or become bulky,” said the 26-year-old personal trainer, who competed in the individual event in Madison in 2019.
“It is about a passion and how far they want to reach in the sport.”
This weekend, the teams will be given a series of challenges, unknown to participants until the competition begins.
Events can include repetitive synchronised pull-ups, handstand walks, peg-board and rope climbs, lifting weights and barbells from 50kg to 250kg, distance swims and obstacle courses.
New twists are introduced each year to test the world’s top athletes.
“You need to work on gymnastics, aerobic capacity, strength. It’s not focused on one movement and each individual is different, so we have needed to work on our weaknesses,” said Mr Al Noori, the Dubai Police head coach who has been involved in CrossFit for the past eight years.
“To make a team happen, it’s no longer your schedule or training, it’s about the team training.”
The group trained together to be in sync and often worked out twice a day for four to six hours in Al Ain and Dubai to prepare for the rigorous sessions.
They were grateful for support from Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, the Crown Prince of Dubai.
“Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed always supports the sports industry. He heard about us and supported us,” Mr Al Noori said.
Irish expat Kat Fearon, 32, has competed at the CrossFit regional level several times when living in Ireland.
Since moving to the UAE two years ago, the CrossFit coach had the opportunity to train at the level she always dreamt of.
“The support of the CrossFit community in the UAE and the people of Dubai has been absolutely unbelievable. I look forward to doing them and the UAE proud,” she said.
“With training we have added a lot of extra movements that we wouldn’t normally do, to prepare us for the CrossFit games.
“It has been challenging at times, learning each other’s strengths and weaknesses and learning to communicate with each other the best way, as well as working on synchronising all movements as a team.”
Working in a team has been a learning experience for Mahmood Shalan, the team’s fourth member who has trained with the UAE national basketball team, and is a fitness trainer.
“It’s always a great opportunity representing your city and country and to do it with a great group of people only adds to it,” the 28-year-old said.
“We are looking to represent Dubai, the UAE and our families the best way we can and make sure we learn from this.”