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Thursday, November 7, 2013

Mohamed Marouf, Energizing Egypt From Top To Bottom

It is occasionally stated in speeches and written in books that the national sport of Egypt is marathon swimming. While it is true that channel swimmers of the 1950s were sponsored by individuals in the Egyptian government and Abdul Latif About Heif was revered for his professional marathon swimming victories, the primary sport of interest in Egypt has been and remains football (soccer) with many other sports capturing the attention and interest of the Egyptian people.

But if it were up to Mohamed Marouf, he would entice more resources, attention and focus on the sport of swimming whether in the pool or open water.

Marouf has been working hard to cultivate an interest and a grassroots passion into open water swimming in Egypt. And he is making significant inroads on various fronts on a daily basis.

Marouf's year-round efforts were nominated for the 2013 World Open Water Swimming Performance of the Year. His nomination reads, "From the famous English Channel races in the 1950’s to the height of Abou-Heif’s career, open water swimming was well-known in Egypt. With a few exceptions, open water swimming fell off the radar, not only in Egypt, but also throughout much of the Middle East. Marouf, through his force of powerful personality, online social media networking, and his experience as a coach and pro swimmer, has re-energized the information flow and interest in the sport in Egypt. The catalyst of open water’s ongoing momentum, excitement, and participants in Egypt and throughout the Arab world is Coach Marouf.

For his year-round promotion and education, for his delivery of the sport to the young swimmers and a new generation of coaches, for his focus on stimulating the love of the open water for recreation and competition, the work of Mohamed Marouf is a worthy nominee for the 2013 World Open Water Swimming Performance of the Year.

From the base of the great Egyptian open water swimmers of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s to Egypt's representatives in the 2008 and 2012 Olympic 10K Marathon Swim (Mohamed El Zanaty and Mazen Aziz Metwaly), Marouf is slowly and strategically building a strong following that will serve his native country well in the future.

He is providing the seeds to generate widespread support among a passionate group of coaches and administrators - all with the aim to re-energize the sport of swimming and open water swimming throughout Egypt.

A 10-lane pool beside the Nile River in the north of Egypt with an anticipated focus on the development open water swimming and new methods of pool training is one part of that overall strategy under the auspices of Gezirat el Ward Swim Club, Dr Abou el Ella, a former member of the FINA Coaches Committee, Dr Mohamed el Kot, head coach of the Tanata Swim Club, and Marouf. With the support of many swimmers, parents, and coaches, the goal is to build the first major open water swimming team in the second biggest city in Egypt in terms of economic power.

"With this conference and excitement, we are happy to kick-start the beginning of a major project and start to build the first open water swimming team in Egypt. It was an amazing day and everyone in the city welcome the dreams and goals of the swimming community," explains Marouf.

His love of swimming goes profoundly deep within Marouf even with his personal life.

Marouf, a former pro marathon swimmer from Cairo, was able to compete in the professional circuit for several years, competing in Europe, Canada and Argentina. Personable and extroverted, he made many friends from different cultures and countries. But he met someone very special who changed his life.

It all started when fate, the allure of love and a marathon swim all intertwined in 1996.

The Egyptian Swimming Federation sent a coach for Marouf at the 1996 Traversee internationale du lac St-Jean in Canada without telling Marouf.

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.

Marouf's preference 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. He knew this 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 on her telephone around midnight."

Incredibly, 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 while running an emerging swimming program and working hard to reinvigorate greatness in the Egyptian swimming program.

The nominees for the World Open Water Swimming Performance of the Year include:

1. BCT Gdynia Marathon, Prizing the Pros (Poland)
2. Bering Strait Swim, Crossing from Asia to America (International)
3. Emily Brunemann, FINA World Cup Winner (U.S.A.)
4. Héctor Ramírez Ballesteros, Battling Butterfly From Spain to Gibraltar (Spain)
5. Ka'iwi Channel Swim, Making the Most of Molokai (Hawaii)
6. Mateusz Sawrymowicz, The Polish Tiburon (Poland)
7. Melissa Cunningham, Every Stroke Counts (Australia)
8. Mohamed Marouf, Energizing Egypt (Egypt)
9. Ned Denison, 9 Swims Around The World (Ireland)
10. Night Train Swimmers, California Coastal Cruising (U.S.A.)
11. Richard Weinberger, Chasing Gold (Canada)
12. Swim4Good, Strait of Gibraltar Charity Crossing (Mexico)
13. Sylvain Estadieu, Flying Frenchman (France)
14. Wendy Trehiou, Two-way Toughness (Jersey)
15. Women’s 10K World Championship, Pack Finishing Fast (International)

Online voting takes place here.

Middle photos show Mohamed Marouf and the Egyptian national open water swimming team in Lake Zürich for the International Self-Transcendence Marathon-Schwimmen in 1993.

Copyright © 2013 by World Open Water Swimming Association

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