UAE: Meet the Emirati mother who never fails to finish any Spartan race

Dr Khawla Saleh is participating in the World Championship at Al Wathba desert this weekend


Ashwani Kumar

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Published: Sat 3 Dec 2022, 7:04 PM

Dr Khawla Saleh, a mother of two and a senior specialist in childhood and youth, is also the female Emirati ambassador for Spartan – the world’s leading endurance sports and extreme wellness brand. And she has never failed to finish in the best obstacle course races, which includes covering miles in hardest terrain and challenging conditions. And if you fail an obstacle, then you do a 30-burpee penalty. Simple.

Dr Saleh, also known as Kookie, is in action this weekend at the 2022 Spartan World Championship that's taking place at Al Wathba desert in Abu Dhabi.

“I first participated in a Spartan race in 2019 with a group of friends in support of breast cancer where I enjoyed myself immensely. It wasn’t until September 2021 when I joined my coach and partner Simon Pepper in Verbier, Switzerland, for the European Championship, that things kicked off.”

Though she had registered only for the super and sprint categories, she wasn’t in the right apparel and gear, and had to endure rain, snow and cold wind.

“I recall many were pulled off the mountain at that time and I was one of them. Because of coach Simon, I had the energy, the courage to proceed with the sprint race.”

She doesn’t consider herself an “expert” in handling the obstacles but enjoys the races.

“I will always finish. Regardless of how much I may be struggling at the time, I will always finish. My first traumatic experience is something I do not want occurring, and I programme in my head I will finish. Where I used to be dampened at heart by the expectations of others, I am now only focusing on competing with myself. My goal is to get better and along this route, I have surprised myself with some good finishes,” said Dr Saleh, who has a degree in complementary medicine, masters in public health, a doctorate in public health focusing on child safety and a fellowship on early childhood development.

“I am a mother to two wonderful young boys and the daughter to two gregarious, remarkable parents. I believe that parents who understand children’s social and emotional needs as well as physical development are better prepared to ensure their child’s safety physically, and emotionally and this is where most of my professional work lies, which is ensuring child development and protection.”

While preparing for races, her training exercises include active and dead hangs, gripping, J-hook technique, box jumps, broad jumps, squats, pull ups, lunges, weighted carries, the famous burpees and so on. “Coach Simon would include track running and even desert running.”

Since beginning her Spartan journey in September 2021, she has participated in 18 races, earning two Trifectas so far and has five more races lined up in the next two months. At Spartan Saudi, super category, she finished in second place in her age group.

And now she is looking to improve her performance at the Worlds which is being held in a new location in deserts of Abu Dhabi.

“I am not an experienced desert racer but I have to work on enhancing my performance.”

Dr Saleh urges people to have fun while participating in such races.

“Just go out there and have fun. Go with a team, with friends, loved ones, your children, Spartan is all about connecting and boosting you with endorphins. You won’t know unless you try it. I have been working non-stop for the past year to improve myself and I can see the difference. Mostly on the confidence front. The journey in training and preparing oneself is not an overnight procedure – it’s a behavioural and habitual one. It has helped me immensely in boosting my confidence by pushing me to do what I didn’t think I could. If I, a mother of two can do it, anyone can.”

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