With all the recent negativety within athletics, I hope this blog shows the purer side to our sport! Avoiding the obvious links to Qatar and the World Cup – I want to keep this positive for once!
I had hoped to travel to Qatar and surprise my mum for her birthday but unfortunately, I had to delay my trip – by a week or so – due to the fact I am still currently hobbling around, with a broken ankle! Things haven't been easy for the McColgan clan over the last few years but I am extremely proud of the way my family has coped with the huge changes. My mum is an extremely strong woman, which many of you already know and has been a huge influence to me over the years.
She now resides in Qatar with her second husband, John. She moved out there with absolutely nothing but within one year has built up - from scratch - a brilliant athletics club for young kids living out in Doha. Sport and Qatar are two words that are rarely intertwined, unless it involves the World Cup! But my mum has truly given young girls (and boys) the chance to be a part of something, a team. The Doha Athletics Club runs three days a week and takes kids of all ages. She also runs a mini athletics group, for kids under the age of 9, that are wanting to get started! It's lovely to see how much the kids enjoy it. They love being part of a 'team' and have a great social side – meeting up outside of the club aswell as going along to see their friends each week. They all share the same passion – running! Each week, they practice different track sessions, drills, stretching and core work. It's an opportunity that they would not have received otherwise. Hopefully, with a little funding or support from companies or sponsors, the club can also open doors to races (something many of the kids has never done before) and potentially racing other schools abroad in Oman and Dubai.
The group mainly train indoors at this time of the year, as outside temperatures are hitting that of which I have only ever seen on an oven! The faciities at the Aspire Academy are brilliant and my mum has managed to secure use of a two-laned indoor 'track', hidden in the basement, underneath the main 200m indoor track. It's not exactly the ritz of tracks but the squad make the best of it and take it in their stride. The basement track is completely enclosed and so it provides the kids with a completely secure enviroment to train and also allows them to wear (within reason) whatever sports clothes they want. On the track outdoors – they have to be covered as much as possible, which can be extremely difficult in heat, in excess of 42 degrees!
I took the chance to film the kids taking part in their sessions and interviewed them with a few simple questions – why do you like runnning? What do you like about the club? Will you run in the future? The answers I received were hilarious. Children provide such honesty and I was totally overwhelmed with their responses. It was evident how much they all loved running. From kids hoping to be the next batch of future Olympians to others just wanting to keep fit and healthy – it really was insipring. With all the negativity regarding athletics at the moment, it was really nice to see athletics at it's purest – kids, putting one foot in front of the other, pushing themselves, all because they love the thrill of running.
The funniest answer I received all day was from a young, eight year old girl. I asked her how running could help her in the future – which for an eight year old was probably a little bit demanding! But she was brillaint. Intelligent and extremely articulate for her young years. She answered that, “running could help her in the future because if there was ever a fire”, that she could “run away fast”. Hilarious. It was also amazing to see how much respect she had for my mum as her 'Coach Liz'. It was heartwarming to see the impact that my mum is having on the group and probably something I never truly appreciated in the past as a kid – they all really look up to her.
Three of the Qatari kids, whom my mum coaches (they are somewhere down the line of the Al-thani royal line), have their own driver, nanny and security guard at all times! I met the youngest of them, Hammad and at the age of five – he lives a life I can't even begin to imagine. The security guard comes in a few minutes before the session starts to check the track and surrounding area, making sure everything is secure. He then takes Hammad down to join in with the session but stays to watch for the entire duration. This young lad is completely oblivious to it all, as he starts his one lap warm up jog, attempts to do some stretches, followed by sprints. It's humorous watching someone so young, as their coordination is all over the place but he listened very intently to my mum and you could tell he wanted to impress her. They have an immense respect for 'Coach Liz' and I believe athletics not only helps with the basics of keeping healthy and fit but it also instills discipline into the children. It was obvious to see how highly the children regarded my mums advice and I loved the chance to meet them all – they were a brilliant, engaging, friendly bunch.
One of the young Qatari boys decided to bring along his persian cat one evening. This cat was the Beyonce of cats. It was perched on his shoulder like a parrot, staring at my mum as she asked all the kids to commence their warm up jog. The boy went to go jog before my mum asked him to remove that cat from his shoulder! His nanny then asked if he could 'run with the cat'. Brilliant. I couldn't of made up a better story! My mum told them that he 'would be able to run much faster without a cat slowing him down' and so he finally decided to put the cat back into the car!
In my first visit to Qatar last year, I witnessed the first time EVER that a young female athlete was allowed to complete in an indoor race alongside boys being in attendance. Back home we would find this ludicrous! But Qatar is a deeply religious country and so it is important to respect their morals. I am glad to see a glimmer of change though with the World Championships coming to Qatar in 2019 – with regards to women’s sport – things need to change. I believe my mum is at the forefront of that and really building dreams for kids that wouldn't have known the importance of athletics – keeping fit, creating goals and making life-long friends. I couldn't be any prouder.
Below is a video I filmed of my time with the group – it's a little rushed and a few mistakes (but it was done in my final hour before leaving Qatar!!).