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Saturday, March 30, 2013

A Love Story - Finding Fate In The Open Water

Mohamed Marouf is a former professional marathon swimmer who was born in Cairo, Egypt. Through this swimming skills, he was able to compete in the pro circuit for several years, competing in Europe, Canada and Argentina.

He now finds himself building a great pool and open water swimming program in La Salle, Quebec, just south of Montreal. Married to a Canadian women with three children, he immigrated to Canada and has now established a budding career and growing swimming club in the French-speaking province of Canada.

But how did he find his way from Cairo to Montreal?

Fate and the magic of love were clearly major elements in the equation.

Back in 1996, the Egyptian Swimming Federation dispatched a coach to work with Marouf at the Traversee internationale du lac St-Jean without consultation of the swimmer. The coach showed up in Roberval and introduced himself to Marouf, "Hello, I am your coach." A day before the race, Marouf was surprised to learn about this new coach who insisted on boarding his escort boat. Instead of working with someone new, Marouf preferred to work with the experienced boat pilots provided by the organizing committee.

This preference by Marouf did not sit well with the coach who had traveled a long way to escort Marouf in the prestigious crossing of lac St-jean. The two men got in a heated discussion early on race morning. The discussion continued for some time and turned into an argument. "I did not need this stressful situation the morning before the race," recalls Marouf. "So instead of boarding the swimmers' bus from the hotel to the start, I decided to take the public bus. I needed to clear my mind and get mentally ready for the race."

As he walked dejectedly to the bus stop, he lugged all his gear, drinks and bananas that he was fond of eating during the 40 km crossing of lac St-Jean. It was not a good start to what was going to be a very long day.

"I sat down at the public bus stop and met a young girl. We started to talk and she asked me what I was doing so early in the morning. I told her that I was a swimmer in the Traversee internationale du lac St-Jean. She did not believe me."

Given the prestige that the swimmers hold in the Quebec province and the improbability of meeting a swimmer at a public bus stop, the young women was not to blame for her incredulity. "I tried to convince her that I really was a swimmer and that I had an argument with a coach who I never met before. I tried to explain to her why I needed to relieve my stress before I started the swim. But she refused to believe me. But I asked her for her phone number and told her that I would call her after the swim."

Marouf finally made it over to the other side of lac St-Jean on public transportation - always thinking about that beautiful young women he met. Although he never saw his coach who never got in his escort boat, he started the swim and finished sixth 10 hours 28 minutes later. "It was a rough swim under terrible conditions after 2 hours, but after the awards ceremony, I finally got back to our hotel. I never forgot the young woman who doubted me and called her around midnight."

Fate continued to intervene and she answered.

"What are you doing?" Marouf asked.

"Do you know what time it is?" she replied, both slightly disturbed, but also intrigued by this foreign swimmer.

"Yes, I finished the race, but do you want to meet? I need to talk to you," he pleaded with the energy of a young man who just finished a shower, not an exceedingly difficult 10 hour professional marathon swim.

She agreed to meet him at the swimmers' hotel. "She took me up to a beautiful mountain on the most wonderful night. We talked for a long time. It was just what I needed and she seemed to enjoy our second meeting in less than a day. We will both never forget how we met. And, honestly, I have my coach to thank, even though he never coached me and he never got on my boat."

Dial fast forward more than a decade and now Marouf and his wife from Roberval have been happily married for over 10 years raising 3 great kids and running an emerging swimming program in Montreal.

Lac St-Jean is known as a magical place among professional marathon swimmers that challenges them physically and mentally, but rarely has it been the site of such a romantic story like this.

Copyright © 2013 by World Open Water Swimming Association

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