Wednesday,26 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1313, (29 september - 5 October 2016)
Wednesday,26 September, 2018
Issue 1313, (29 september - 5 October 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Banker turned sportswoman

Amany Helmy Khalil’s career has been shaped by numerous twists and turns, writes Niveen Wahish

Al-Ahram Weekly

On 2 October this year, Amany Helmy Khalil, who has just turned 50, will be competing in the Ironman Triathlon in Barcelona, Spain. She will have to swim 3.8km, cycle 180km, and run a full marathon of 42.2km back to back.

A Business Administration graduate of the American University in Cairo and trained as a banker, Khalil never thought that sports would be her calling. During her university years Khalil spent her summers interning in the banking sector. Upon graduation she went to work for one of Egypt’s biggest banks and later for a major US financial services corporation. She was encouraged into this career by her mother, also a banker.

“But I was not happy and was waiting for an opportunity to quit,” Khalil said. That opportunity came when her husband, also a classmate, decided to travel to the US to study for his Master’s. Khalil was planning to do the same, but then became pregnant with their first child, changing her plans completely. She wanted to be there for her baby so she decided to stay at home.

When she gave birth she started going for daily aerobics classes and morning runs and was encouraged to take up sport by the running culture in the US. “You step out of your house and you just get going,” she said. One day a fellow gym-goer suggested she join a local five km marathon. “Why not? What have I got to lose,” Khalil asked herself. She came in sixth, and ever since then she has been hooked, applying for longer races until she did a full marathon just a month before she left the US.

“It was very tiring. I would never do it again,” Khalil told herself back then. Never did it cross her mind what extremes she would go to later.

Soon before her family was scheduled to head back to Egypt, her mother-in-law was visiting and suggested that Khalil get certified in aerobics in order to be able to work for one of the gyms that had opened in Cairo. Khalil liked the idea and scrambled to get the certificate in what little time she had left. It involved a written as well as a practical exam.

With the certificate under her belt, she returned to Egypt and started to give aerobics classes. It was an ideal arrangement as she could give the classes after she took her children to school. She would go for her run, do her class, and then be back for their lunch and ready to spend the evening with them. She decided to give classes at the Gezira Sporting Club in Cairo, which was also a perfect arrangement. There she could sometimes also do an evening class when her children were in their own sports training. That was Khalil’s routine when her children were in school.

In 2003, it was suggested that she join the Luxor Marathon. She came in third and was the only Egyptian in the competition. A group called the Maadi Runners noticed her and approached her to join them on their weekly run. Between 2003 and 2014 she took part in one marathon a year with the Maadi Runners along with her aerobics teaching and regular running. A couple of years ago she also joined the local chapter of the Global Biking Initiative that does regular cycling tours as well as a European trip every year for charity.

Khalil cannot imagine her life without sports. “It is my endorphin, my medicine of life,” she said. Last year during her mother’s period of illness Khalil had to abandon her routine, and she did not even teach her aerobics class. She ended up feeling ill herself. After extensive tests her physician told her nothing was wrong except that she had interrupted her sports.

Khalil was always an athlete even when young, and she played for the basketball team of the Zamalek Club during her university years and even after graduation. But aerobics and running were different. Even her appearance has changed, and she now has a far more toned body. “The leaner one is, the lighter one is in marathons,” she explained.

Khalil is not a believer in dieting, though she tries to eat well. If someone wants to lose weight, it is 90 per cent about the food and 10 per cent about doing sports, she commented. However, staying fit is another story, she said, as one has to eat the right food and do strength training to avoid injury.

She attributes the fact that she does not suffer from the symptoms other Egyptian women her age have to sports and proper training.

Joint pain is a common complaint among Egyptian women, for example. Khalil eats lots of vegetables and fish with an occasional intake of chicken and meat. She takes in carbohydrates that she loads up before her races for energy. She avoids dairy products, sugar and sweets completely.

Khalil took her activities up a notch in 2014 when she decided to do a triathlon in Hurghada. It comprised a swim of 1.5 km, a bicycle route of 40 km and a run of 10 km. Compared to the Ironman competition she is now heading for early next month, the Hurghada event was a walk in the park. Khalil now trains for between three to four hours a day. She has had to drop her aerobics classes for lack of time. She can think about the competition now, she says, as her two sons are now at university.

She did her first Ironman competition in 2014, but was disqualified. She did not know the rules and did not keep to the cut-off time. “It was hard because I had made it through the toughest parts of the swimming and an uphill cycling route that I had not trained for,” she said. She thought she would not do this to herself again, but then decided to go through the challenge again, this time with a trainer.

She worked with Khadeeja Amin who herself successfully completed an Ironman competition in Majorca, Spain, in 2014. It paid off.

Khalil entered the May 2016 Ironman competition and came in seventh in her age category. She was the first Egyptian mother to complete the Ironman contest, many said.

Khalil is going to compete again this October because she wants to have another go at the competition, especially as she has just turned 50. However, she does not believe she will attempt it a fourth time. She does not want it to become an obsession, as this could take her away from her family. Even when they go on holiday, she is sometimes unable to join them because she cannot interrupt her training.

Her next target is the Boston Marathon scheduled for April 2017. Getting accepted in the marathon is an honour in itself, as only runners with the highest records are accepted.

Khalil is proud of what she has become. She thinks she is a positive role model for her two sons, also into sports. The oldest, Mohamed, likes running, while the younger, Ahmed, prefers swimming. They will both be joining their mother in the Hurghada triathlon next December and together they will do a relay. “The fact that strangers are encouraged to do sports just by seeing what I do is rewarding,” Khalil said.

She praises all those who have increased sports awareness in recent years in Egypt, those who have led by example and those who have encouraged young people.  “What is important is that trainers know what they are doing to avoid injuries to competitors,” she stressed.

She does not know where life will take her. Right now she is focused on Boston. The opportunities are endless: she could take up coaching, or maybe pursue a certification as a nutrition expert. She does not know. But going back to her daily aerobics routine might no longer be satisfactory.

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