Najla Al-Jeraiwi is on a mission to inspire more women in the Gulf to experience triathlon, starting with the ITU World Triathlon Abu Dhabi.
Najla Al-Jeraiwi, Kuwaiti triathlete, cyclist and ITU technical official, believes that many like-minded women should experience the wonderful sense of accomplishment that comes with crossing the finish line at a triathlon, and is encouraging women to take their first step into the sport at the ITU World Triathlon Abu Dhabi. The fourth edition of the ITU World Triathlon Series season opener is set to take place from 2 - 3 March 2018 on the iconic Yas Island in Abu Dhabi.
Najla is one of three sisters who are all passionate about triathlon and staying fit. The Al-Jeraiwi sisters, who started participating in triathlons in 2011, are usually easy to spot in a race because of their distinct head coverings.
"I want more women like us to experience the incredible feeling of crossing the finish line at a triathlon – and there’s no better race to experience it than the world-famous ITU World Triathlon Abu Dhabi." says Najla. "Once you've crossed that finish line on the blue carpet, I promise you'll be hooked!"
"My sisters and I always have supporters at the races we participate in which is fantastic and makes a huge difference to our experience," said Najla. "Even race officials recognise us at the ITU World Triathlon Abu Dhabi because we keep coming back every year for another dose of action and adrenaline!"
The sisters fell in love with the sport after Najla, a former equestrian show jumper, began training in triathlon six years ago, in a bid to get fit. The 29 year-old triathlete, who’s ‘day job’ is a triathlon coach and sports events manager, trains for 20 – 25 hours a week – a commitment that has resulted in her representing her country at the Asian Games in South Korea and the ATU Triathlon and Pan Arab Championship
"I was initially drawn to triathlon because of the challenge of doing all three disciplines in one race," said Najla. "I love challenging convention so being one of the first Arab women at the time to participate in the multi-discipline sport was very tempting."
"I thought the first logical step to exploring the sport, which was fairly new to the region at the time, was to sign up to the shortest distance and test the waters. Doing my first triathlon was an eye opener…and a great one. I loved it! From the moment I started training, to the adrenaline rush at the start line and the indescribable sense of accomplishment at the finish – it was and continues to be an adventure. It was a brilliant experience and I still vividly remember it."
Najla's experience from doing a total of over 35 triathlons has strongly motivated her to encourage like-minded women to experience the sport. "I always tell my friends and women that I meet – triathlon gives you a huge sense of achievement whether you are a professional athlete looking to beat your personal best or a beginner doing it for the first time. The ITU World Triathlon Abu Dhabi is a great race to start with because there are multiple race categories tailored to all ages and abilities – there’s even junior races for the little ones!”
As well as racing in triathlons, Najla is a qualified ITU technical official, which means that not only will she toe the line in the amateur race at March’s triathlon showpiece, she’ll also be officiating the ‘elite’ race which sees the top 65 male and top 65 female athletes in the world, go head-to-head in one of the first races on the global triathlon calendar.
The Al-Jeraiwi sisters' message, and other trailblazers like them, might have had something to do with the rise in female participation in the sport in recent years. The ITU World Triathlon Abu Dhabi has seen the percentage of female participation rise from 22% at the inaugural event in 2014, to 27% in 2017.
Women looking to test themselves on the triathlon circuit can now register for the ITU World Triathlon Abu Dhabi via the race website, AbuDhabi.Triathlon.org/Enter. Age group participants will be able to choose from three course types, all ranging in distance. The variety of courses provides a distance to suite all levels of competitors, whilst giving all the chance to race alongside the world’s best elite triathletes. The three distances available to age groupers are:
Sprint: 750m swim, 20km bike, 5km run
Olympic: 1,500m swim, 40km bike, 10km run
Middle: 1,900m swim, 90km bike, 21km run
Those looking to make it a family affair can also sign their children up for the junior races, with categories open to ages 5 years and up.