Muscat: Meet Ibtisam Al Salmi, Marwa Al Khaifi and Tamdhur Al Balushi. The trio is part of Oman’s first all women sailing team, which will be taking part in the Sailing Arabia tournament.
The tournament will begin in Muscat on February 13 and end in Dubai on March 1, after making stops at Sohar, Khasab, Doha and Abu Dhabi.
Thirty teams, each comprising eight members, are expected to take part in the race. Ibtisam and her teammates are part of Oman’s first ever all-women sailing team.
“Right now, our priority is to have more women in our team so that we are ready for next month’s race,” said Ibtisam, who has been part of Oman Sail since 2011. “We are trying to inspire more women to take up sailing as a sport because Oman still does not have a strong culture of women as sailors.
“I joined Oman Sail after finishing my studies at Oman Tourism College and went sailing on an off chance one day,” added the 26-year-old.
“I loved it so much that I wanted to make a career out of it.”
While Ibtisam has been part of Oman Sail for a long time, her teammates only joined a couple of years ago.
Marwa Al Khaifi, who is 32 years old, was a professional handball player for seven years and had even won the National Cup, while 22-year-old Tamdhur Al Balushi was an accomplished horse rider who won a GCC Silver Medal in 2015.
“We all like to be outdoors,” said Ibtisam, speaking on behalf of the trio. “For us, sailing on the sea and facing the challenges of nature and the competition of the race is not dangerous but an adventure. We enjoy it every single day.
“It’s good to have such a great team around you. We’re all like one family and we support each other all the time. ”
Although the training that Ibtisam, Marwa and Tamdhur undergo is extremely strenuous, it is the passion for the sea that burns within them, inspiring them to train with such dedication.
They are currently at the Musannah Race Week, which runs from January 15 to 21. The event is organised by Oman Sail, which has brought coaches from several nations to train their sailors.
“We train from 9am to 6pm and then we have a debriefing and sessions where we discuss our tactics for the race and how we can do better next time,” revealed Ibtisam.
“After that, we have our stretching exercises because when we are on the boat, we are in a position where we are constantly hanging off the edge of the boat to balance it. It is something very painful for our thighs, back and stomach, but I wouldn’t give this up for anything because it is my passion and I love it. It’s impossible to put into words what we feel and we all want to do this for as long as possible.
“My parents were very surprised when I told them I wanted to take up sailing full time because this is a very extreme profession and something completely different from what many women do in Oman. The culture of women taking up sailing has not quite set in here yet,” she added.
“But now, every day, after training, my parents ask me what I did that day and how I learnt from it.”
The three dream of representing the Sultanate at the Olympics.
“To wear the shirt with the national symbol of Oman is a matter of great pride for all of us,” said Ibtisam.
“It is an honour to represent our country at the Olympics and we are sure we will get there one day.
“Many of my friends are always curious about what I do,” she added. “I want to take them there with me, not just as supporters, but as teammates.”