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Abla Khairy and the English Channel

Abla Adel Khairy swam across the English Channel in 1974 at the age of just 13. Now a wife and a mother of two, Khairy looks back at her accomplishments and hopes for a better future for young athletes.

Perhaps Khairy's main influence as a youngster keen on swimming was her mother, who was also something of an aquatic athlete.

“My mother, Enas Haqi, was the first Egyptian female short-distance swimmer,” says Khairy. A student at the Lycee Francais, Haqi became a swimmer at the age of 22, taking part in many international contests and winning numerous trophies and honors.

“My mother launched the female basketball team at Cairo University back in 1951, which was unusual and frowned upon by many,” remembers Khairy. “I grew up in a household of a great athlete, and she is the one who inspired me to cross the English Channel,” explains the champion.

Khairy started swimming at the age of five as part of the Gezirah Club Swim Team, and then climbed the ladder gradually from one national contest to the other until she became part of the National Swim Team.

“After taking part in the International Nile Contest, I was nominated to cross the English Channel,” explains Khairy. In 1974, she broke the world record and crossed the Channel in twelve-and-a-half hours. “The following year it took me 11 hours,” she explains.

In 1976, Khairy wanted to swim the Channel in both directions. After 25 hours of non-stop swimming in challenging weather conditions, the young swimmer collapsed and was taken to the hospital only three miles from the finishing line.

“Swimming in the dark was one of the biggest challenges I faced. I cried the first time,” says Khairy, laughing. Jellyfish and their painful sting were another challenge.

Khairy is now the head of procedure development at Commercial International Bank and practices no sports at all. “I was offered a position in the Swim Union a year ago, but that did not happen,” she says.

“Nowadays people have changed, and sports for girls are frowned upon by many. The idea that a girl would put on a swimsuit in front of a crowd is unacceptable to many; we have gone 70 years backwards,” she says.

According to the athlete, there is much to be gained from involvement in sports. “Sports teach you a lot: discipline, a great sense of responsibility, and the ability to function under all circumstances and with all types of people in all aspects of life,” she says.

She feels bad for her mother, who put a great amount of effort into the sport of swimming, apparently in vain. “From what I hear there is little or no attention directed at young athletes, especially within the Swim Union,” complains Khairy.

Having a goal at an early age is tough; hard work and determination are a must. “I spent five hours of my day in the water, and in winter my training started at 5 am, before school,” she says. Family support is also important: “A champion is born into a family that is supportive and pushes him or her forward."

The young athlete dedicated her childhood to training, giving little or no time to leisure, in order to reach her ultimate goal — crossing the English Channel.

Great achievement comes with patience, compassion, and hard work. The story of this young athlete who overcame great challenges is an inspiration to all. Let it be an inspiration for change.

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