What do you get when you combine an ex-Olympic synchronized swimmer passionate about neuroscience with a Nike+ Training Club Coach with a penchant for Olympic lifting…? A running squad like no other, and just a snapshot of the diversity of participants who will be running as part of Nike’s epic We Run DXB initiative. Heba Abdel Gawad and Sal Ismail are among the thousands who will take part in the 10km race on November 13, coming together over a common goal to achieve their personal best in what has been dubbed as the fastest race in the city.

Heba, 33, has been training her whole life, starting her synchronized swimming career when she was just 5 years old and the petite Egyptian still works in the fitness industry as a Personal Trainer, NeuroPilates Instructor and Instructor Trainer. For Sal, 28, her fitness journey started more recently when in 2009 the Egyptian brunette decided to change her lifestyle completely and began working out. She is now a Nike N+TC trainer and founder of The Body Challenge. Their fitness backgrounds could not be more different, and while each incredibly accomplished athletes in their own right, both will tell you that running is certainly not their sport of choice. For them, the We Run DXB initiative goes far beyond just running – its about taking on a new challenge and its about being part of a community of like minded women who are dedicated to moving the fitness movement forward, regardless of your sport of choice. In the lead up to race day, Sand & Smoke sat down for a quick Q&A with these two Nike ambassadors.


What is your biggest motivation when it comes to health and sport?

HEBA: I am extremely interested in Neuroscience and optimizing brain health through exercise so my biggest motivation is knowing that there is nothing better than sport and movement to keep my brain healthy and alive.
SAL: To never turn into the girl I started as. Knowing I can do today what I couldn’t do yesterday.

image-9What is your greatest personal accomplishment in sport and wellness?

HEBA: Competing at the Sydney and Athens Olympic Games in 2000 and 2004.
SAL: My greatest personal accomplishment is the fact that I changed my entire lifestyle one day and never looked back.


How do you think women and sport are being supported in the region?

SAL: Women in the UAE have been encouraged and empowered since the foundation of the state. This policy has been backed up by the UAE Constitution. As a result, the role of women in society has evolved considerably over the years.Women now are breaking down stereotypes and pushing the boundaries in their private lives, competing internationally in sport at high levels, embarking on adventurous expeditions and participating in many unconventional fields.
HEBA: Seeing the support that the female Omani Tennis player Fatma Al Nabhani is getting in the region is very encouraging and inspiring and shows that women are much more encouraged to do sport in this region and that things are changing and evolving for women in sport.

image-13Do you think there has been a change in how women in the region approach sport and health?

HEBA: Definitely. I think there are a lot of inspiring female athletes and fitness personalities that are encouraging women to be more active and strong. Particularly in social media, which I think could be one of the biggest factors that is influencing women. There are so many inspiring videos and pictures of women showing great strength, flexibility, endurance and power, which is very motivating.
SAL: Over the last few years the region has directed a lot of attention to women only activities, such as Nike Run Club and Nike N+ TC classes.

What do you think the UAE could do to support women and sport in the region and globally?

HEBA: I think that one of the challenges of the region is that it is very expensive to take part in sporting activities for kids. The government should help fund sport by allowing sporting companies to apply for funding so that the kids in the UAE don’t have to pay so much just to be active or be part of competitive sport.
SAL: By continually expanding awareness about the importance of physical activity on every level, the UAE is already on the right path. More competitions along the lines of the Dubai Fitness Championships will give women the needed platform to compete and support each other.

image-15What do you think about the Nike Run DXB as an initiative to get women in the region moving?

HEBA: I think the best thing about the Nike Run DXB is that it is encouraging women to be part of a growing community of runners and the communal aspect goes far beyond just running. The Nike running community in the build up to this event is very active on social media and it is making every woman not taking part in this event feel as if they are missing out! The organisation and hard work by the Nike team is amazing and the smaller details such as the awesome running T-shirts we receive, definitely appeals and encourages women to be a part of it and to get active in general.
SAL: Launching the women only Nike Run club this year has been one of the greatest initiatives in my opinion. Women are now gathered up together and enjoy a nice run in the streets of UAE which has made women more comfortable and confident to get ready for such a big race.

image-8As a trainer who is constantly engaged in sport, what do you do to push yourself our of your comfort zone?

HEBA: I think we all label ourselves as being a certain type of athlete for example I always thought I was only athletic in the water since growing up I could hardly even catch a ball. Now I push myself out of my comfort zone by trying out sports that are quite daring for me and ones I would’ve never dreamed I’d manage to do such as Parkour, Surfing and Basketball.
SAL: I always grab a friend to train with me that I know will challenge me and push me out of my comfort zone.

What’s the best piece of advice you have been given?

HEBA: You can’t rush progress and things take the time they take.
SAL: To leave my ego at the door and train everyday like its my first.

Photography by Juliet Dunne Videography by Allison Everett. Hair & Makeup Hedi Kalmar, Heba & Sal wear Nike throughout.

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