Run far, run free: the story of Rocky Kiblawi
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The music is loud, the crowd is cheering…the punches come so fast that you can’t see them but you can hear them as they hit…within 10 seconds a man is thrown across the ring, falls and doesn’t get up. The fighter catches his breath, comes close to take a look at his K.O. opponent and raises his arms in victory as the voices chant ROCKY! ROCKY!

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This is not a Hollywood blockbuster. It’s just another day in the life of Rocky Kiblawi, our very own Lebanese action hero who ran the 2016 BLOM BANK Beirut Marathon.

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Fighter, marathoner, Lebanese champion

The Muay Thai world champion has been fighting since he was a kid but when you see his fun personality and how he puts everyone at ease in his gym Shogun, you forget that he’s a mean machine. In fact, he could knock you out and then with the same hands prepare you a delicious meal since he studied Hotel Management in London and worked 20 years in the F&B industry before focusing his complete attention on being an athlete.

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But with so much to do: championships in Thailand, training the Lebanese army, private students, family…why did the Kru Yai (Teacher/ Assistant Master) decide to run a marathon?

Because it was a challenge

The first time he went on a long run he barely made it to the end of 16K, and that’s when he decided that this would be his new obsession: to conquer long distance running. Then he researched running groups and found the Beirut Marathon’s Beirut 542 training program.

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He had always been into all kinds of sports (kickboxing, scuba diving) but running has captured his heart.

The taste of freedom

Rocky found in running a sport that has no limitations. He saw people older than him and less fit than him pass him on the road during races; and it was very humbling and put everything into perspective. Running is something that anyone at any stage of their life can do. You must only get through the hard work while your legs accumulate kilometers and then you have gained the world. “It’s so freeing”.

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Since he started running Rocky has participated in all the races he could find over the seven months leading up to the 2016 BLOM BANK Beirut Marathon which he finished in 3 hours 33 minutes, an amazing time for a first marathon. He fit his running program into his busy everyday life, in-between his gym schedule and his students. To some this sounds like a nightmare, but to Rocky it was a dream. “I was ecstatic that I didn’t have to watch what I ate while I ran so much. I ate like a beast and still lost weight”.

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Train hard, fight easy

Rocky says that in running, just like Muay Thai, one needs all the support he can get. Had he not gotten local support from friends like Mr. Elie Khoury, he wouldn’t have been able to fulfill his dreams. He hopes that one day he will be the one to help the future generation win medals, participate in tournaments abroad and keep Lebanon on the international sports map.

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All these accomplishments and these new goals, is there anything else Rocky wants?

“Yes, always. I want to run a 250K Ultra Marathon for which I will train this year.”

“Wow, impressive.”

“And then I want to skydive.”

“But Rocky, you told me you were afraid of heights.”

He smiled and said “Exactly.”

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Follow Rocky’s journey:

Instagram: rockykiblawi

Facebook: Kru Yai Rocky Kiblawi, Rocky Kiblawi, Shogun 2.

YouTube: Rocky Kiblawi.

Seri Runs 21KM this Nov 13
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t is said that autistic people have little interest in things, not this kid! Seri Beyhum is a young man who portrays immense interest and enthusiasm in one particular sport: RUNNING!12234991_10153731976504914_4729459847375316146_n

“Seri is extremely built athletically and enjoys physical activity.  However he doesn’t play many of the team sports because he lacks the patience and cannot stick to the rules of engagement of many of the games.  As such, running has been a wonderful sport for him.  Seri has picked up a healthy activity that will hopefully stay with him and one that he can do anywhere and at any time.  He has become very conscious of his stamina now and is better able to gauge his own energy and strength.  As he becomes more mature, he may be able to take his running to a higher level.” Says Suha, Seri’s mother.

What is so interesting about Seri as an individual is the fact that he is the perfect example of how individuals with autism can integrate well into society; Seri, a very bright and special kid, has decided to raise awareness about the Lebanese Autism Society through running a full 21.1KM at the BLOM BANK Beirut Marathon this November.

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Seri is running a half Marathon with an open heart, determined mind, and a great coach by his side, Ali Wehbe.  There is nothing stoping him from reaching his goal! The only challenge Seri will face is keeping a “slow” pace throughout the race, as he is prone to sprint it all with all the excitement within.

Seri’s mother explains how her son Seri decided to join this year’s race:
“Seri has always been a good runner but we never had the chance to explore it much with him due to the excessive time he used to spend in therapy.  For the past year’s he’s been running a full 10km and always take the podium.  He enjoyed it so much!  When the Beirut Marathon started placing the statues around town, Seri was super excited about joining and that’s when we sprang into action”.

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Seri sure knows how to commit, for he has been running three times per week on the “Corniche” with “Ali Wehbe”, an elite runner and a friend of the family.

However fulfilling running on the streets of Lebanon, Seri makes it clear that he can’t wait to try the actual circuit. For a runner, the actual circuit is not just a road; it is a special cat walk where runners impress us with their determination and perseverance!

Seri’s favorite sport is running of course, but can anyone guess why? Being outdoors is something we all naturally enjoy; nature does all hearts minds and souls good. And having few rules is something we all embrace, thus it is only natural that running is one of the most favorite free sports that we all can engage in. This is particularly what excites Seri about running, and what pushes him to endure all hardships that come along

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It is a very good opportunity to shed the light not only on the importance of running as a humanitarian sport, but the beauty of a soul as noble as Seri’s, so strong, so committed, and so respectful, and very cheerful and full of hope.

Lebanon can raise its head with pride with such stories of perseverance and hope. Yes there is hope, and what is more cheerful than hope!

It seems as though life puts forth many obstacles for humans, and it seems as though humanity manages to break them all. So cheers to Humanity that keeps running for the Long run, for a better Tomorrow and a brighter Lebanon

 

From A Couch Potato To A Marathoner | By Pauline Korban
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I always wondered why people put their bodies through severe punishment. Being a couch potato myself, I thought my body and I had a good understanding. I would not cause my body any pain and in return it would allow me to live through the day. So the question remained, why doesn’t everyone have such an amazing relationship with their body ?

The Marathon. The ultimate physical punishment there is, and yet thousands and thousands of people meet year after year to run for 42.195 km. In the beginning, laying on my couch and watching them from my home screen, I felt sorry for them. So I watched them more closely.

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They knew something, why else were they there ? Maybe it was their physical appearance that attracted me, the lean muscular bodies that screamed “I’m healthy” from many miles away, or maybe it was the smile on their faces… How could they be smiling knowing that the hours and hours to come were going to be harsh, brutal, and utterly painful ? They knew something, that had to be it. So I decided to run the marathon.. When ? next year. But it was always next year.

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Years later Elena was born. I was a mom now, a role model to a new life. I wanted her to believe that she could be and do whatever she wanted growing up. That’s when it hit me, I wasn’t a role model. I had great limitations, I hadn’t followed my dreams… I was lazy. That year I ran the marathon.

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I started on the treadmill at home. Day in and day out, I would get on that treadmill and run. My greatest limitation slowly turned into my greatest passion. My body resisted at first, our relationship went through a hard time. Weeks passed and everything felt great. My body, my mind and my emotions were suddenly aligned. My relationship with my body transcended into a partnership. I could run for hours now.

The day of the marathon came. I was one of the thousands that people were watching from their TVs. The big race started and I ran. 42.195 km. It took 4h39 mins but I made it to the finish line. I knew what they knew… I had become one of them.

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The marathon is not a physical challenge but rather a mental challenge. It turned me from a couch potato into what I hope to be a role model to my Elena! Later that year, I created the  “Run with Paula” initiative, a weekly free of charge run to help other people run and experience what it feels to run for fun, to run for joy, to run for a cause. So that one day, they could also KNOW!

Faith in Humanity Restored by Micky the Cyclist!
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Since I started writing for BMA I am constantly in awe with all the inspirational Lebanese athletes I’ve been talking to for these posts. I for one was not aware we had so many people accomplishing such great feats! When talking to these inspirational athletes, I am always curious to find out why they decided to challenge themselves to such arduous levels (possibly because I wonder what it would take for me to extremely challenge myself).

Let’s take Cyclist of Life Micky Chebli for instance; he started cycling from Paris on May 26th towards Beirut where he will be arriving on July 2nd. Short of turning 50 later this year, financier Micky decided on going through a one month long and enduring cycling journey of 4000km with 30,000 meters of ascent that totals to 180 hours of biking!

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Micky has been thinking of facing this challenge for the past couple of years and decided to challenge himself and push his limits more than before at the age of 50. Being a man who values family, he wants to be a role model for his 2 children and all children, to teach them about dealing with life struggles, something he also feels strongly about as a humanitarian, which is also why he decided to raise $300,000 for 3 NGOs.

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Just take a look at the NGOs he has selected:

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Myschoolpulse who help children undergoing treatment for a life-threatening illness maintain some academic normalcy so they can keep up with school. According to Myschoolpulse, 250 children are diagnosed with cancer of which 80% survive. Schooling these children ensure that in addition to having to withstand such hardships at a very young age don’t lose a year of two of schooling as well. Schooling sick children also benefits them on a psychological level, which would strongly impact them while undergoing treatment.

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Petits Soleils provide free health care and medical treatment for all children in need without discrimination. The association covers the expenses of hospitalization, examinations, consultations, supplies medicine, and prostheses. The financing of the association comes from spontaneous contributions, donations, and sponsorships.

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Oum el Nour a drug prevention and rehabilitation center who have been decreasing the addiction rates in Lebanon through rehabilitating drug addicts, supporting their parents throughout the process. The rehabilitating program takes a total of 18 months and the center also follows up with the ex-addicts to help them reintegrate into society.

On Micky’s Facebook page, he uprightly wrote “If you tell someone you have cancer they automatically have a feeling of compassion and care…if you tell someone you have a drug addiction, they look at you in a different way ! Our society sees addiction as criminal or sinful. This kind of behavior makes the addict feel weak, shameful, or helpless.”

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Micky Arrives July 2nd

On July 2nd Micky will be cycling the last stretch from Jbeil until Zaytunah Bay from 8am where local professional cyclists are welcome to join him. He is expected to reach Zaytounah bay from 9:30am where people can wait for him and welcome him upon his arrival.

Meanwhile, you can follow all his updates on the Cyclist of Life Facebook page and through his blogposts. Both pages also give insights to how he feels about the NGOs and he shares experiences of his encounters with them. I truly recommend you check them out!

Also worth mentioning, every Thursday while Micky cycles, all the proceeds of Meat the Fish in Saifi Village will go to his fundraising so go, dine, and help! Micky is still short of reaching his $300,000 goal, so if you would like to donate, you can do so here.

I’m #TeamMicky. Are you?

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Ten Marathons in Memory of His Father
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Mo Dirani has been running 10 marathons in memory of his father. The 10th and final marathon will be in his father’s homeland, Lebanon, where he will be running the Beirut Marathon on November 13th, 2016.  Below in his voice, Mo shares his story with us. 

Ten marathons in memory of my father (Abdul Dirani, 11/11/37-10/01/13)

He tightened his grip on my foreman and looked at me with his defiant but surrendering eyes and asked for help. He could longer walk, almost out of breath and his muscles weakened. He fell into my arms. As I held back my tears I carried him to his hospital bed (less than 5 meters away) with such power to reassure him that he could rely on me.  That moment was to become the most defining point of my life.  The same young boy who would literally jump and yell to grab the attention of his father, who stood at an easy 6ft and was as handsome as one could be, is now carrying his father in his arms. From that defining day, my beautiful mother (our queen) and eleven siblings would only have two days left to spend with our king.

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A year and rivers of tears later, the loss and grief of Dad’s passing was still very strong. I could not tell a single story of my father without crying with great sadness. But I knew that it was time to control my thoughts, strengthen my body and keep dad’s legacy alive.  Being a reasonably fit gym and boxing guy, I thought I would join my friends at work for a weekly run. It was a stunning 10km route through the city and parks of Melbourne, Australia. The first run was incredibly humbling and tough, where I failed to run at their pace or make the distance. I think it was at the 5km point where I got a serious stitch that literally floored me. My friends rushed back to help, but of course I reassured them that I was okay and would see them at the finish line (a typical Lebanese thing to do).  I was in pain, exhausted and out of breath but giving up is just not part of my genetic makeup.

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Dad defied medical prognosis over and over again and battled the complications of a serious heart condition for over a decade. I was in awe of his unbeatable strength, endurance and resilience.  He had a will to survive, with a drive to be there for his family.  To truly keep my father’s legacy alive, I had to channel his energy into my every move. I stood up and finished the 10km run and decided that day (almost 2 years ago) that I would run a marathon in every city in Australia and finish with marathon number 10 in my father’s birth and now burial place, Lebanon. I am incredibly excited about running a marathon in Beirut. The Beirut Marathon Association is a great success story in itself and my father would be very proud of my involvement.

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There is one powerful vision I have of me sitting by my father’s grave (Kasarnaba, Lebanon) reminiscing on the journey, experiences and emotions of running these things and letting him know of my future plans (not more marathons, ha!). To those thinking of running a marathon or completing any other tough challenges, my humble advice is to have a clear vision and purpose and do not allow anyone to distract or discourage you.

Believe me, running one marathon was unfathomable to me, let alone ten. But self belief, perspective and determination go a long way. And as the late Muhammad Ali famously said, ‘Champions aren’t made in gyms. Champions are made from something they have deep inside them- a desire, a dream, a vision. They have to have the skill, and the will. But the will must be stronger than the skill.’

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