(MENAFN - Arab Times) Few people can take on the challenge of a 1.2mile swim, a 56 mile bike ride, and a 13.1 mile run at a go. But Anwar Jawhar, a young Kuwaiti athlete has done it many times over, and in the process won accolades for his country. Throughout the course of sports history there have been many great athletes, who have won medals and performed to their best, Anwar Jawhar is one of the few this region can boast of, who found his calling, inspired by setting an example, and set a new record for Kuwait and the region by heading to Las Vegas last year to compete at the World Championships. Every athlete has a story and a cause. Anwar's is spreading the love for his special sport and bringing it the recognition it deserves. Fighting heavy odds, which includes getting financial support, this young athlete, has continued to race in Triathlons around the world. Arab Times caught up with this Kuwaiti athlete who not only set the ball rolling for other Triathletes in the region, but whose passion for sports, and ability to challenge himself to reach higher levels of speed, strength and endurance truly exemplifies the Ironman mantra 'Anything is Possible'.
To keep up with Anwar Jawhar log in to instagram: @anwarjawhartriathlete or twitter: @AnwarJawhar.
Arab Times: What is a Triathlon?
Anwar Jawhar: Basically, it is three sporting events rolled into one. It always starts with a swim followed by cycling and then it ends with a run. This sport is fairly new in comparison to main sports. It started as a main sport only in 1974, and so it took some time to grow and spread. It came to the Middle East about three years back, and now it s very popular in Bahrain, Oman and the UAE.
AT: What brought you to sports?
AJ: I have always been into sports. At school, I played basketball. Later, I ran in High School. When I heard of the Triathlon, I decided to look it up. I trained for half marathons, and learned to swim better.
AT: And when is it you decided to take it up as your calling?
AJ: In 2012, I decided that this is what I wanted to excel at. I decided that my first goal would be to qualify for the world championships in the distance that I race, which is half Ironman or 70.3 miles. To qualify, I needed to select a race that I would win in my age group. I planned to race in Philippines to make it to the qualification position to the World championship in Las Vegas. If I did that, I knew it would be a bit of history for every Middle Eastern or GCC national because it has never happened before. I decided to pursue that full time.
AT: How did your parents react to your taking up a sporting career?
AJ: My parents have always been supportive. Their first concern was if I could afford it. They were worried if my savings would see me through the year, and if I would achieve my goals. I thought of taking the risk because if I did not I would never know. It was not an easy decision. Getting sponsorship was perhaps the most challenging thing because this sport is not known, it is not recognized.
AT: How difficult or easy it is to be in professional sports in Kuwait?
AJ: We do not really have a massive sports culture in Kuwait.
AT: And why is that?
AJ: I think it has a lot to do with socio-cultural reasons. If you look at other countries, people have to work hard to make a living compared to the average national here. Elsewhere, people are given opportunities to prove their athletic capabilities. They are told that if they excel at something, they will be rewarded. There is a chance for these people to take up sport as a fulltime career. I do not think that is happening here because it is not a part of the culture yet. I think with time the situation will change. But again it should be the Olympic Committee, the governing bodies, the sports and youth federation who can take up the thing a bit more professionally. I have dealt with them on numerous occasions, and it is very different from dealing with similar bodies abroad.
AT: How many races did you participate in last year?
AJ: Last year I raced in 7 or 8 competitions. I raced two races in Bahrain. I won one of them and came second in the other. I did the Abu Dhabi race where I was ranked in the top 10 in my category. Later, I participated in the Ironman 70.3 in the Philippines, where I won in my age group out of 106 athletes. That qualified me for the world championships in Las Vegas. Towards the end of last year, I competed in Oman where I won. I just had my first race in 2014 in New Zealand a few weeks back. My plan this year is to qualify early by April so that I can train for a longer time for the world championship.
AT: As an athlete, do you think people recognize your efforts here?
AJ: Social media is the best way to get some recognition, to get the name of the sport out there. I do not expect everyone to take up Triathlon, but I would expect and love more than anything for people to know what Triathlon is. That is what I want to do - give the sport a bit of recognition it deserves.
AT: But you would also want to be appreciated for your efforts? Perhaps some backing from official bodies would help?
AJ: Yes, of course. Some athletes in Triathlon do get sponsored, while others don't but as far as Kuwait is concerned, this is how I look at it. In France, England or Germany, 1000s of athletes participate in Triathlons, and you cannot sponsor thousands, but in Kuwait, you have a handful of athletes and out of the handful, the country can sponsor the top 2. I have dealt with the Olympic committee here, and I think they are way behind in their dealings with athletes and in their knowledge of the sport. Knowledge is really important when it comes to any sport.
My main sponsor for the past year has been the 'The Nasser Bin Hamad Foundation' in Bahrain which is owned by Sheikh Nasser, son of HM King Hamad Al Khalifa. Sheikh Nasser and his brother Sheikh Khalid are very active in Triathlon. Last year, Sheikh Nasser took part in his first Triathlon, and he loved it. Following that he has encouraged many Bahraini nationals to take up the sport. In fact, he sponsored these athletes to go to Ironman70.3 in Berlin, and to Ironman in Florida. Now they are preparing for competitions in Philippines and South Africa. What I want to highlight here is Sheikh Nasser and Sheikh Khalid have helped to establish the Triathlon Federation in Bahrain. They have really promoted the sport in the region, and they have been really supportive of me because they know that what I am trying to achieve is not easy, and I work really hard for it. And they don't just do it for the Triathlon, but for other sports, as well. My other sponsor is "The Bed Shop Kuwait" which supplies me with products to help with my recovery after my training.
AT: This is sad because Kuwait has the wherewithal to do a lot for sports.
AJ: I agree with you. In fact, when you look at sporting facilities here, it is completely ridiculous. I have been to facilities in Dubai, Qatar and Bahrain, and some of them are absolutely state of the art. Countries are investing in sport, and by doing so, they are telling their youth that 'if you have the talent that is the path you want to take. Prove your talent and there is money to be made'. Take the example of cricket in India. It is a huge sport; cricket players are almost worshipped, and they make huge amounts of money. A person may not be cut out for an office job, but they maybe talented in sports. There needs to be programmes in Kuwait that invests in the youth.
At the same time, it is very difficult to get private sponsors in Kuwait. I have been to private companies here, and I have been very honest about the amount of money I need. When I go for a race I ask for an airline ticket, hotel accommodation, and race registration fee, that's it. And these companies struggle with the amount. For a big corporation 1000 to 2000 KD does not even show in their balance sheets, and yet they are unwilling. I had no option, but to stop looking for financial support in Kuwait. I felt that if I am going to get opportunities from people outside Kuwait who believe in me, I am going to take it. I have always been very grateful to the Nasser Bin Hamad foundation for their support.
AT: There is also the issue of young people not playing enough sports nowadays?
AJ: As a young boy I kept busy playing football in the garden or playing basketball at my friend's place. There was always some kind of physical activity. Now every kid has an I phone or an I pad. I know that times are changing, but parents should take some efforts to keep their kids physically active. You don't have to make your kid professional in any sport but do keep them active.
AT: Apart from your awards, what else do you take away from your sport?
AJ: Sports, I believe brings people together. I meet so many people at events I compete. I always make a handful of friends wherever I go.
Nowadays there is so much hatred, politics and religious debates all around. Being involved in some kind of sport brings happiness.
AT: Any messages for parents out there?
AJ: As a parent teach your child a sport, watch him, and cheer him even when he is making mistakes because it will encourage him. That's when they try to improve.
AT: Where do you see yourself five years from now?
AJ: As a sport, triathlon is endurance based and you reach your peak by the time you are 35. I will always try to qualify for the world championships. How far I can take myself, depends on sponsorships and the support I receive. If I am given the opportunity to just race, and not worry about the money, I can do a lot, but I have to worry all the time. I have been very lucky this past one year, but it is not easy to predict what will happen in the next few years. The good news is that Sheikh Nasser has been very active in Triathlon, and I know they are trying their best to get the Ironman or something very similar to this region. That is going to be a huge step for the Gulf.