Young gymnast ready to represent the UAE

The 10-year-old Emirati is preparing for her third international competition, held from December 12-15 in Budapest and is the sole competitor from the UAE.
Emirati gymnast, Shaikha Al Tayer performs a routine at the Collegiate American School. Dubai. Rebecca Rees for The National
Emirati gymnast, Shaikha Al Tayer performs a routine at the Collegiate American School. Dubai. Rebecca Rees for The National

DUBAI // Shaikha Al Tayer knows there is a big responsibility resting on her young shoulders when she represents the UAE in an international gymnastics event in Budapest this week, but she is prepared to take it all in her stride, as well as a few somersaults and cartwheels.

The 10-year-old Emirati is preparing for her third international competition, held from December 12-15 in the Hungarian capital, and will be the sole competitor from the UAE.

She began rhythmic gymnastics when she was four, which her coach Angel Ilgaz says gives her a distinct advantage. Her first competition was a year ago, also in Budapest, and she travelled to the US in April this year where she learnt to increase her routines from one to four.

“My first competition in Budapest was scary because there were so many good professional girls so I got really nervous,” says Shaikha.

“It made me feel that when I get older I want to be like them and after that I worked harder.”

Once the Latifa School For Girls pupil returned home, she upped her training to six days a week for up to three hours. Despite the added sessions, she is careful to balance her sport with schoolwork.

Ms Ilgaz is clear that Shaikha has to study, instructing her pupil that “good gymnasts need good school grades too”.

Shaikha hopes to compete at Olympic level, although there are a few hurdles to pass first, such as the UAE forming a gymnastics federation and becoming part of the International Federation of Gymnastics.

Shaikha’s day starts at 5.45am with a healthy breakfast, with almost every hour accounted for with schoolwork and family time until she starts training at 4.30pm.

Such a strict regime means she often gets hungry, and eats about five meals a day and always has snacks in her bag to maintain her sugar levels.

“I do get tired. Once a week I’m allowed a treat of junk food,” she says. “I like chocolate and ice cream.”

Shaikha says her gymnastics have given her an advantage in school sports such as running and swimming and she says she feels bad when she eats a sneaky junk food meal.

“We are trying to teach the girls balance,” Ms Ilgaz says. “Normally in gymnastics you’re not allowed to eat junk food but this is more balanced.”

With the competition looming, the youngster said she was “prepared, but when I get there I’m nervous”.

However, her coach insists the nerves will pass with time. “The more competitions she has, the more she will get used to it.”

Gymnastics is still relatively new to the UAE, says Ms Ilgaz, who has watched the scene grow over the past nine years.

“When we go to competitions they are shocked now to see someone from the UAE. I’m very proud of Shaikha. It’s very difficult and needs training every single day.”

Shaikha’s sister Amina, 13, took part in competitions but as she got older her schoolwork overtook her gymnastics, although she happily helps out her sister and the coaching team.

The girls’ mother, Tanis, said Shaikha, her youngest daughter, was keen to be even more committed to her sport. “She wants us to travel in the summer to Russia or Turkey to train, but we haven’t done that yet because I think that’s a bit heavy, but she can’t get enough of this.”

mswan@thenational.ae

Published: December 6, 2014 04:00 AM

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