At 6.30am on my first morning in Dubai, I had a “swim date” with Abdullah Attiya. Abdullah is a 17-year-old triathlete and the most recent addition to the Bahrain Endurance 13 Team. “Abs,” as he is known to his teammates, and I splash through 3 kms and then headed to the Souk next door for a Jugo Juice.
“I saw on Facebook that you are a Women’s Rights Activist,” Abs says early in our conversation, “You should come do the Women’s 10k in Bahrain. I know some people you should meet.
The great Bob Babbitt caught up with Abs at Ironman 70.3 Dubai
For a moment I wondered who was interviewing who. This kid had done his homework. At 17, Abdullah’s maturity exceeds his years and it’s no surprise that many people consider him Bahrain’s – and the Middle East in general’s – best bet for the the future of triathlon.
Abs won the junior Arab division and placed 8th in the African ITU Championships in 2015. He raced a number of European Cups last year and is a member of the ITU development team.
Success in sport comes when an athlete with the right talent, the right attitude and the right work ethic has the right opportunity. On that front, everything seems to be falling into place for young Abs.
His work ethic is certainly there in spades. I ask about his training routine and he tells me, “I wake up at 5. My mom has to drop me at training 30mins away. I do some stretching and I’m in the water at 6. I swim and get out at 7.50. School starts at 7.50 so I’m usually a bit late. I walk 3k to school. I’m done at 2pm and right away I walk to another place, to the track, another 2-3 kilometres. I’m often 2 hours early so I study or sleep and we start track at 4.30 and finish at 6.30. After that i go back home and hibernate. The next day is the same but instead of track I go back home for a 2h ride, which is much easier.”
Impressive, considering he does most of it alone.
I ask about the roads and traffic for riding in Bahrain; “Down south is good to ride. There are cars, but now they are aware,” Abs tells me, “Its 2k of ‘death’ in traffic and then open road. There are lots of roundabouts. On Fridays, I wake up early and take advantage of the empty roads.”
One would be ill-advised to let all his maturity fool you. Abs is definitely seventeen in many ways. For example, his affection for his mom, a ticketing agent for Gulf Air, is palatable, “My mom wants me to leave Bahrain for University, but I don’t want to leave. She is a single lady and I’m really attached to her. With triathlon I travel a lot, so I don’t want to leave for Uni as well. ”
Abs attends a mixed private school, “Its way better than single sex public school (that is the norm in Bahrain). I wouldn’t be motivated to wake up and go to school to see guys!”
Then, for the second time during out chat Abs turns the tables on me. He wants to know about me, my career, how I got started and how I train. The look on his face when I tell him I did my first triathlon in 1999 makes me wish I had the camera rolling, “I was one year old,” he says.
I ask him about what it’s like to live and train in Bahrain.
“Bahrain and the Emirates are the two countries in the GCC that are open minded. No one cares if a girl wears shorts, she can wear shorts. You can buy alcohol anywhere in Bahrain and here. Its normal, they respect every religion and they also sell pork here and in Bahrain. In Saudi, if they see your wrist they’ll get turned on. The more open the country, the less sneaky the people have to be.”
I ask about the political situation and he tells me:
“The safest place in the world to live is Bahrain. Its really small and everyone knows everyone so you can’t get away with anything. We have lots of people in the army who can’t afford education so the Bahraini Government is really smart and they give them a job in the army so we have a large army. There was one time I saw some trouble during the protests, but it was one time and then its done. I mean, its normal, you find that everywhere in the world. I love Bahrain. It’s small. It’s nice. Everything is close by. It’s a perfect place for me.”
Abs’ English is almost perfect so I ask about language, “I can speak Arabic and I can text because of auto correct, but writing is pretty messed up and I can read a little.” At home, they speak an “English-Arabic mix” with his Mom but he speaks to his brothers and sisters in English.
Its easy to see why many people have high hopes for young Abs. With the new opportunities presented to him through Bahrain Endurance thanks to His Highness Sheikh Nasser Bin Hamad Al Khalifah, good results should follow. The secret will be to keep his head in the game and maintain the simplicity of swim, bike and run that is required for success in triathlon. If he can do that, the future is truly golden for young Abs.