Interview with Chirine Njeim - Lebanese Alpine Skier
Chirine is a Lebanese Alpine Skier who lives in Chicago (United States), she represented Lebanon in the 2002 2006 and 2010 Winter Olympic Games. When, how, why did Chirine start running? How did she run 3 hours 7 minutes in the Chicago marathon 3 weeks ago, knowing that the Lebanese record stands on 3:00:02! We contacted Chirine and she answered all our questions:
Who is Chirine Njeim?
Being an accomplished athlete has taught me a significant amount about myself and what truly motivates me. Through my experiences, I have always set ‘the bar’ high in an attempt to continually better myself and to reach my dreams. One of those dreams was to compete in the Olympics as an alpine skier, a dream I realized in 2002, 2006, and in 2010 for my home country, Lebanon. To achieve that dream, I had to learn how to sacrifice and to be self-sufficient.
When did you decide to start running?
Studying, traveling and skiing have been my occupations since the age of 10. Skiing will always be my #1 sports at heart. I Never stopped skiing, I just couldn't race after the 2010 Olympic games because the Lebanese ski federation put a hold on my skiing career (don't want to get in details of what happened) but they were not supportive and very unfair! But again that never stopped me from fighting for my rights. After a year and half of being suspended, last season I raced and Won the Lebanese Ski Championship by a big margin and my victory motivated me to stay in the loop of ski racing and I am STILL shooting to go to the 2014 winter Olympic games in Sochi! That's my GOAL! On the other hand, running has always been part of my training for skiing but I never ran a long distance, just short 40 min runs! It all started when I decided to run the Bank of America Chicago Marathon. I wanted to do it just to say that I have ran a marathon. So in July of 2011, when I realized that the marathon was getting closer, I started running more and more on my own!
How many times per week and per day are you training for marathon?
I didn't really have a training program, or a schedule, I just ran whenever I felt like it. I sometimes would go for an hour run, sometimes 2hrs or sometimes just 40 min run, and there is days when I just didn't feel like doing anything at all. Being on my own and doing my own thing taught me a significant amount about myself. I just learned to push and motivate myself but also learned to listen to my body, and do what it felt was right at that moment! So really I didn't have a time, or certain days where I would run. I just did it when I was in the mood.
Have you ever expected to run 3h07?
I had no specific expectation for the marathon. Before the marathon, for practice, I decided to do some half marathons, I figured it was a good training for the big race! So Between the first, second, and third Half marathon, I always improved my time!! And this gave me Lot of motivation and confidence. From there I had an estimate of where I should be in the marathon, but definitely not a 3:07:00!!
What was your Personal best before this performance?
What was my personnel best? Well so far my PB half marathon I finished in 1:29.07 and my PB in marathon is 3:07:00.. I don't have anything else other then those 2 races !
How far you expect to go in marathon? What about the National Record of Maria Pia Nehme?
Again I have no expectation. I did register to run in the most prestige running race, the Boston marathon in April 2013!! But to me the most important thing is to always ENJOY WHAT I AM DOING, and keep doing what i was doing; run and have fun. I am very competitive and I love to push myself to the limit at least I know at heart that I gave it all I have!! I definitely want to improve my time, and of course who wouldn't want to hold the title of the fastest national record? It is cool..no?? Anyways I am not going to think much about it, I am just going to let things happen.
How can your experience in skiing on an international level help you in running a marathon? knowing that a marathon needs a mental strength.
Skiing takes a lot of patient, training and hard work, just like any other sports! Of course every sport is different and every sport has its beauty, freedom, ups and downs, but knowing how to deal with all of it is what makes us champion. Being away from home, my family at such a young age of 10, I had to learn to be confident, independent and strong and never give up. As a ski racer, I had to deal with lots of injuries, frustration, ups and downs, but I knew that it was just another hurdle that I needed to jump/overcome. All this made me who I am today. I had to learn to stay positive knowing that skiing is not just about physical but also mental. Being strong is not enough if you don't believe in yourself and your ability. Marathon running is definitely, a mental and physical race! Of course my physical fitness from skiing helps a lot, but in marathon running, you get to a point where you just want to give up and walk, but if you have what it takes to push yourself that is the mental aspect, I believe you can get through anything and that is exactly what I did. I knew I was ready physically, and mentally I was confident and POSITIVE. I just wanted to RUN and HAVE FUN!!
How are you preparing for the Winter Games of 2014?
Preparing for 2014, it s just like preparing for any other race. Lots of training, off and on snow! The most important thing to know about the Olympics that it is a big big race with lots of people, and extra special attention, security, but when it comes to racing, IT S JUST ANOTHER RACE!
Is your country helping you to achieve this goal?
As an athlete representing Lebanon at the Winter games, I received minimal support from my federation. Instead of them reaching out to me, I had to beg them every time!! And that made it very hard, so if it wasn't for my family, I would have NEVER been able to achieve my goals and dreams as a ski racer! I couldn't thank them enough for Everything! Of course all the fans that believed in me and always sent me encouragement messages were amazing!
After 2014, if I am still capable to race and be part of the Olympics I will go and represent my country! As long as I am qualified and capable I will keep racing! It is important to know that Racing at the Olympics, or any big race, it is not all about winning!! Of Course you want to be the best, and on top, but what is great about these races, is that of all the athletes from your country you are the one that got qualified, and picked to go to that big race, and that alone is a huge accomplishment and achievement.
What would you like to say to the boys and girls in Lebanon who dream of representing their country in the games like you did?
What I have to say to all the athletes out, is that sometimes while training and racing you might go through lots of frustration, and bad performances, but what's important is to always remember that tomorrow is another day. Don't get down on yourself, just stay positive and learn from your mistakes! Learn to turn negative to positive! Whatever your goals or dreams are, follow them all the way! Believe in yourself and don't let anybody or anyone stop you from achieving them. Be confident, and fight until you know that you gave everything you have! All I have to say is that whatever our goals are in life, we are all capable of reaching them. We just have to believe in ourselves, and most importantly enjoy the ride!
After the interview, I wanted to hear more from our champion! As an athlete dreaming of representing my own country in the Olympics, I asked her a few questions that I wanted to share with you! I came up with a quote that says: "Anyone who knows the Olympics cannot describe it, anyone who describes the Olympics doesn't know it", and I asked her to describe the Olympics for me: Each Olympics was special right? After competing in 3 OGs didn't you become addicted? Can you tell me how you felt and what were your thoughts racing in the games!?
Each Olympics was different! How? Well the village, the place, the culture, the course. And most importantly the experience! At my first Olympic games, in Salt Lake city, I was like a block of ice. I was so nervous, I could hear my heart beat in my ear! I remember being at the start of the race course and being so lost and out of focus because there were cameras everywhere and thousands of people watching, and I was so intimidated by other athletes; all of this distraction made it so hard for me to perform at my best. But of course the whole experience being there was literally "LIVING A DREAM". My next two Olympics, I was more confident, more prepared for what to come and was able to control the nervousness ignore the crowd and distraction and just SKI! You learn to adapt and adjust, you learn to think that once you're on the hill, on course, it is just like any other training day. Just go out there and do your thing: SKI. But I must say having the opportunity to go to the Olympics is an experience you will NEVER forget! It is fun, you meet a lot of other athletes that are in the same boat as you. Athletes with same ambition, same dream, and that have worked hard to be part of these games! Krystel, I really wish you all the best of luck and really hope you get to be an Olympian and experience this wonderful feeling. It is a title that you will hold forever! Keep working hard and never give up on your dreams and goals.
There is a lot more to know about Chirine, more than you can imagine, but this is a short article to know the champion. We are looking forward to see her running and skiing in her own country, Lebanon!