The Mid­dle East’s lead­ing out­doors fig­ures.

Action Asia - - CONTENTS - Text by Steve White

RAHA MOHARRAK 32, moun­taineer

The first Saudi woman to climb Ever­est, Mo­har­rek says she grew up al­ways test­ing bound­aries. That started with push­ing her fam­ily to ex­pand their idea of what it was to be a Saudi fe­male. She de­scrib es: “Climb­ing t re es in t he back­yard, jump­ing off piers in the night . . . chip­ping away at my par­ents' men­tal­ity.” While hol­i­day­ing over­seas with her fam­ily, she was given lee­way to be the tomboy, to try it all: “Scuba div­ing, shark div­ing, sky div­ing – the best way to get me to do some­thing is to say I can't do it,” she says. Then the rules abruptly changed. “All that was ok up to the point when I be­came a woman.” Then the pres­sure to con­form, to act a cer­tain way, be­came all per­vad­ing. That be­gan with at­ti­tudes at home and so she chal­lenged those at­ti­tudes. Moun­taineer­ing be­came her cho­sen ve­hi­cle and she set about climb­ing the Seven Sum­mits (the orig­i­nal, Dick Bass ver­sion with Kosciusko). That cul­mi­nated, in 2013, in her sum­mit­ting Ever­est as part of the Arabs With At­ti­tude team that also in­cluded the first Qatari man and first Pales­tinian man to at­tempt the moun­tain. “After climb­ing Ever­est, my proud­est mo­ment will for­ever be land­ing back in Saudi and the air­port doors opened and there was my dad's face. He was so proud!” she says. It was a huge mo­ment. “He is such a great ex­am­ple of a typ­i­cal Saudi male,” she says, but at that mo­ment he was, “able to ac­cept di­ver­sity.” Still Mo­har­rek faces op­po­si­tion, es­pe­cially on so­cial me­dia, but she is well past let­ting that slow her down. She is also keen to lose the dis­tinc­tion of be­ing the only Saudi woman to climb Ever­est (or in­deed most of the other ma­jor peaks she has scaled). She has been widely quoted as say­ing, she said: "I re­ally don't care about be­ing the first, so long as it in­spires some­one else to be sec­ond.” With a nod to re­cent de­vel­op­ments in the king­dom that have seen women get to drive at last, she is look­ing beyond ‘records': “I want to reach the point where there are no more ‘firsts' to be done,” she says. So what's next? She says she wants to pub­lish her mem­oirs – no mean feat for some­one with dys­lexia so pro­found that even writ­ing emails is a chal­lenge. She calls it, “not a book for me, but for ev­ery fa­ther, ev­ery man in the coun­try,” though she says this with no trace of bit­ter­ness, just ev­i­dent rel­ish. And the other tar­get? She low­ers her voice: “I'm glad my mum is not here to hear this, ” she says, “I re­ally want to go into space…”

PARVANEH KAZEMI 48, moun­taineer

Born in Tehran, capital of Iran, Kazemi's early life was far from a life of sport and the out­doors. “In my fam­ily, they thought if kids do sports then they don't have enough time to study,” she says. But after univer­sity, with more in­de­pen­dence, she tried var­i­ous sports be­fore set­tling on bad­minton. “For seven to eight years, I did it pro­fes­sion­ally as a player, coach and ref­eree. It was only in 2005 that I got into moun­tains a lit­tle as a hiker. For a few years I went trekking on high peaks in Iran, but just to en­joy na­ture and with­out any spe­cial goal. Then, in 2010, I tried my first high sum­mit: Mustagh Ata (7,546m) in the west of China.” She coped so well on the moun­tain that an ex­pe­ri­enced climber told her she should try an 8,000m peak. But while en­cour­age­ment was forth­com­ing out­side Iran, inside the coun­try it was of­ten a dif­fer­ent story. Kazemi was told that 8,000m moun­tains were no place for a woman. She wasn't to be de­nied though, and in 2011, climbed Manaslu, the world's eighth high­est peak. Then, in 2012, came a dar­ing dou­ble-sum­mit of Ever­est, and Lhotse – the world's fourth high­est. Climb­ing right be­hind the fa­mous ‘ice doc­tors', the Sherpa team who fix ropes up Ever­est, she was the first climber to sum­mit that year, even ahead of the late, great Ueli Steck. “Be­ing in high moun­tains (not only achiev­ing suc­cess on them) has com­pletely changed my life,“she says. “I have learnt a lot from moun­tains and still learn a lot.” “My climbs were fol­lowed by my friends and some peo­ple of my coun­try, but there wasn't lots of at­ten­tion, even when I made a world record as the first woman in the world to climb Ever­est and Lhotse in a sin­gle week. It's be­cause I'm a free­lance moun­taineer – I have no sup­port from gov­ern­ment – and I did it alone, not with a team.” Asked about her legacy, she says: “I feel re­spon­si­bil­ity be­cause I tried to break many bound­aries and in­spire women and a lot of girls now fol­low me.” She be­lieves things are slowly chang­ing for the bet­ter: “With the big suc­cess of Iran women, so­ci­ety has to ac­cept the re­al­ity that women are not weak, they can do big things and it brings more con­fi­dence to women.” Much work re­mains. “A lot of things in the world work against the nor­mal peo­ple of Iran, ev­ery­thing is more dif­fi­cult for us,” she says. But at least the coun­try is blessed with many peaks, even close to Tehran, and there Kazemi finds so­lace. “A love of na­ture and moun­tains is the source of my en­ergy,” she says. “I pre­fer re­mote places where I find peace, si­lence and beau­ti­ful scenery, alone or with small group of friends.”

HICHEM MOUBARAK 41, ul­tra run­ner & triath­lete

Born in France, Moubarak moved to Qatar more than a decade ago to work in the en­ergy sec­tor, “to be part of the ex­cep­tional ad­ven­ture and vi­sion for the coun­try,” as he puts it. “Here in Qatar there are many cul­tures and na­tion­al­i­ties and this is what makes it very in­ter­est­ing from my point of view. It's a very mod­ern coun­try with a to­tally dif­fer­ent ap­proach to do­ing things,” he says. To­day, when not work­ing, he fo­cuses his own en­er­gies on liv­ing a healthy, ac­tive life that sets an ex­am­ple for his fam­ily: as a raw ve­gan, for in­stance. “Be­ing healthy is driven by feel­ing good on the inside, be­ing able to climb or take on a chal­lenge any­time, be­ing able to see our chil­dren grow and pro­vid­ing them with a great way of think­ing in their lives.” He men­tions how life in Doha of­fers a di­ver­sity of es­capes: from man­groves and the sea to the north, to the desert in the south, his usual train­ing ground. “I run on any kind of ter­rain, mainly in the desert, but it can be on rocky ter­rain, dirt, mud, track . . . run­ning for hours out­side the city al­lows me to feel and hear na­ture. While mov­ing steadily up the dis­tances, he has be­come fo­cused on us­ing his run­ning to help oth­ers less for­tu­nate than him­self. “After a few triathlons, I em­barked on 4 Deserts races [a series of ul­tra­ma­rathons] and I'm do­ing the Grand Slam [all four] this year. This is for a char­ity, so I be­lieve that one of the fu­els is to have this goal to achieve.” He aims to raise US$30,000 for Char­ity: Wa­ter, enough to give 1,000 peo­ple – one for ev­ery kilo­me­tre he will run in the Grand Slam – ac­cess to clean drink­ing wa­ter. “Now run­ning out­door ul­tras is mainly in­flu­enced by look­ing to be con­nected with my mind, soul and body all to­gether,” he says.

YOUSEF KHOURSHID 43, ul­tra run­ner

Half Kuwaiti and half Jor­da­nian, Yousef works in his fam­ily's pack­ag­ing busi­ness but is also the co-founder of Ad­ven­ture Hub In­ter­na­tional, a sports com­pany in Kuwait City. “I have al­ways loved train­ing and stay­ing fit,” he says, “but the love for rac­ing be­gan in 2008. Prior to that most of my out­door ac­tiv­i­ties were re­lated to hik­ing when I trav­elled, and spear fish­ing and div­ing.” He started run­ning 5km and 10km races and grad­u­ally worked up from there, in­spired by the ex­am­ple of run­ning greats from far away and much closer to home: “I was mostly in­flu­enced by well known ul­tra run­ner Jo Petersen from New Zealand, and Salama Al Aqra, a great cham­pion [and noted desert run­ner] from Jor­dan.” “The move to the multi-stage ul­tra scene was when I found a few pages on so­cial me­dia pro­mot­ing ex­treme races and ul­tra run­ning and that's how I got into this scene.” Since then, Yousef has com­pleted 11 ul­tra events across the planet - most of them desert runs. “The ideal races for me are desert ul­tras,” he says, “I find moun­tain races very hard to train for as we barely have any high ground in Kuwait.” What they lack in to­pog­ra­phy is bal­anced by sear­ing tem­per­a­tures: “I usu­ally do strength and resistance train­ing three times a week and the rest are my long-run days which I spend usu­ally on the roads or track. Most is flat and not very chal­leng­ing – the heat is the only real chal­lenge we have to over­come.” Then there are so­cial at­ti­tudes to out­door fit­ness: “Some friends and fam­ily are sup­port­ive but most think it's too harsh on the body con­sid­er­ing the con­di­tions we have to deal with. Very few have ap­proached me to ask how to train and par­tic­i­pate in th­ese races.” Later this year Khourshid will run his third Rac­ingth­e­p­lanet Ul­tra­ma­rathon at the Gobi March in Mon­go­lia and he sees much of his run­ning fu­ture tied to their 4 Deserts series. “I'm plan­ning to con­tinue my en­deav­ours and chal­lenges with them – the team they have are al­ways a true in­spi­ra­tion to keep you go­ing for­ward,” he says. “Fu­ture plans and dreams, cir­cum­stances per­mit­ting, would be Antarc­tica with RTP, which I have qual­i­fied for, plus an event in Namibia and the jun­gle marathon in Brazil.”

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