Youth encouraged to compete in Abu Dhabi’s ITU World Triathlon

World Triathlon will have stars, but it’s all about children.

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ABU DHABI // The second annual ITU World Triathlon Series in Abu Dhabi will pit some of the world’s fittest men and women against each other, many of who will be hoping to bag a medal.

But the triathlon is not just for elite athletes. The main aim is to inspire young people of all fitness levels to take up sports, said Talal Al Hashemi, director of the Abu Dhabi Sports Council’s sports technical department.

“It’s no secret that here in the UAE we do have problems with youth obesity, and we are extremely keen to get all youngsters living in Abu Dhabi out being active in our great outdoors,” he said.

“Getting youngsters involved in sport is one of the key pillars of ADSC, and junior triathlons fit the bill extremely well as they are designed to be fun events.”

This year’s triathlon has a “tiny” triathlon for children as young as five, as well as junior super sprint and aquathlon competitions. The council is encouraging schools to promote triathlete training to their pupils.

It is a challenge that the four Abu Dhabi National Oil Company Schools in Abu Dhabi, led by their American physical education teacher Lisa Jane Proctor, have been keen to take on.

Last year, six of her female pupils competed in the ITC Triathlon, and this year she has 15.

“I started a swimming team for girls when I came to Adnoc School in 2013, but there were very limited events for the students to compete in,” Ms Proctor said.

In 2014, she began a school triathlon club and held a National Day Triathlon for her students.

“It was the only way that my Emirati girls could compete in a triathlon - they swum with only girls and female adults in the pool, and then were happy to run and cycle outside.”

Since then, Ms Proctor has organised two more triathlons, with students from other schools competing.

“It’s great to see students who cried as they finished their first triathlon in 2014, cross the finish line this year smiling – and coming back for more.”

Heba Al Atar, mother to young Emirati Adnoc School triathletes Saphiya and Mariah, said: “I would love my children to grow up enjoying sports like I did.”

“I have been really impressed at the sports department’s efforts this year to encourage after-school sports activities, for the girls especially,” she said.

“It is very satisfying that they are able to enjoy sports with members of the school community.”

The ITU World Triathlon takes place on March 4 to 5.