UAE: Camel trekkers try their hand at racing, embrace 'opportunity of a lifetime'

A total of 21 expats from 16 countries participated in the race this year



Supplied photo
Supplied photo

By SM Ayaz Zakir

Published: Thu 20 Jan 2022, 5:44 PM

The camel trekkers, who reached Expo 2020 Dubai on December 21, 2021, after travelling 640km for 13 days, signed up for a new challenge - one that also involves camels.

The trekkers participated in the third edition of the annual UAE Camel Trek Marathon at Al Marmoom Camel Race Track on Wednesday. The event, organised by the Hamdan bin Mohammed Heritage Centre (HHC), promoted the UAE's cultural heritage, spirit of tolerance and camaraderie.

Camel racing is a popular traditional sport and has gained traction among expats living in the UAE. A total of 21 expats from 16 countries participated in the race, including China, Estonia, Germany, United States of America, Algeria, India, South Korea, Czech Republic, Saudi Arabia, Poland, Italy, France, Iran, Philippines, Spain and Belgium.

Chinese national Xiaozhe Huo, who goes by Alex, finished first and bagged the Dh100,000 cash prize. Estonian expat Laura Ezzat came second and was awarded Dh70,000, while German national Gesa Eggeling finished third and received Dh50,000.

First place winner

Alex participated in the camel trek three years ago. Since then, she has also actively participated in the camel race.

"The first year I came first, and the second year, I crossed the line in second position," she said.

Speaking about the camel trek, Alex said she will cherish the adventure throughout her life as the trek can be taken only once.

Photo by Shihab
Photo by Shihab

Runner-up

Laura, who came second in this year's camel race, works at the Estonian Embassy in Dubai as the consular-secretary.

Speaking about her experiences with the camel trek and the race, Laura said: "The camel trek and the race are something to be experienced once in a lifetime and I am glad I did it."

Laura, a horse rider, said she believes camel riding comes with a distinct set of challenges. "Horse riding is far different compared to camel riding. Balancing the camel and myself is the main aspect, I believe," she said.

Photo by Shihab
Photo by Shihab

2nd runner-up

Gesa, who is working in the automotive sector in Dubai, participated in the camel trek and camel race last year.

Unable to keep herself away from the race, she registered this year, as well. "The camel trek and the race are opportunities of a lifetime," she said.

Gesa, who also enjoys horse riding, said she believes camel riding is more challenging. "In the camel ride, the rider must completely trust the camel by building the bond. I was not expecting to win the race, but when I found myself at the third position in the beginning, I was screaming my lungs out to my camel to maintain the speed and remain in the same position."

Training for the camel ride also meant changing her schedule completely, but Gesa has no complaints.

Photo by Shihab
Photo by Shihab

Following their journey from the Liwa Desert in Abu Dhabi to Expo 2020 Dubai, the camel trekkers were given a 10-day break to rest over Christmas. Their training for the camel race commenced long before their trek to the desert.

"The training, the race and the trek - the overall experience was just splendid," said Howard Leedham MBE, a former Royal Navy pilot and UK Special Forces officer.

He noted that camel racing is different from other types of racing. "The camel gallops, maintaining the speed, and we were trained to balance the camel, which was a challenging task," Leedham said.

Explaining the difficulties of the camel trek and the lessons he has learned since, Leedham said:

Preparing a camel to race takes also takes considerable effort and time. Most camels are trained to participate in a race when they're three years old. Their careers range from two to three years.

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"Generally, it takes months to train a camel for a race and a special diet and exercise are required to take up this challenge. They are the athlete for us," said a camel trainer at Al Marmoom Camel Race Track.

ayaz@khaleejtimes.com


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