Get to know Sara Joe:
How did your journey in the world of athletics began?
In 2007, I went to the training of the Champville Club with Lucy Doumanian, an athlete specialized in discus throw. I took my jumping rope with me and start running laps and laps with the rope. Elie Saade, the coach, was impressed by my endurance. He called me, asked how old I am and told me that he wants me to come back in two years to train with him and the team when I grow up. I went away for three years until my dad saw Elie at the church and told him “My daughter loves sports and is winning over boys in her school”, Elie asked him my name, and when he heard Sara Joe he remembered me and told my dad to bring me the next day to training. The next day, when our car parked, I went down and ran to Elie. I still do that every time I go to training.
How many times you train per week and per day?
I train 5 days a week, once a day for 1 hour and a half.
Do you take care of your nutrition?
Two months ago, I decided to try to follow an adequate nutrition program, but I gave up after two weeks. Next week I’ll try to stick to another program.
We all know that challenge helps improving. What it is like to train with someone who is on the same level as your are?
Peter Khoury is my training partner. Yes of course we help each other a lot, for example when we have a certain rhythm to follow, or when we have a test; in this case, the competition mode turn on, we are no more friends on the track, we are opponents and everyone wants to win for his own.
What about challenges in competitions? Now you are a youth, there are still some seniors to challenge. What would you do when you become a senior and you find out that there isn't anyone to push you harder?
In every competition, I pick up a good opponent and tell myself that this one won’t beat me today. Even if I’m better than her. It is a way to encourage myself.
When I run against seniors, like Saria Traboulsi or Maria Pia Nehme, I try to follow their rhythm to try improving my times knowing that they are better than me.
When I don’t find a challenger in Lebanon, I may consider competing abroad, because I feel that if I compete against myself here, I won’t be able to improve like I want to. If there is a person who can push me harder when I become a senior, I would be glad, even if she’s younger than me. I have a chance now to challenge older than me, so it would be fair enough to see my fellows taking the chance of challenging me. Athletics should keep improving and shouldn’t stop to one person.
Who is your main opponent this year?
My main opponents for this year are Saria Traboulsi, if she won’t switch to heptathlon, and Maria Pia Nehme if she comes to Lebanon.
What race do you remember the most? What does it mean to you?
My first National record, the 2000m. I still have the spikes and the sweatshirt I was wearing at the time. Even if the 2000 meters is not my favorite race. I remember being so excited to break a national record at that time, because all my training partners at Champville had records in their names.
Who is the athlete you look up to?
David Rudisha, I saw him in France in an international meeting when I was in Nancy in 2011, and took photos with him. At the time I didn’t know who David Rudisha was but my coach told me that one day I will be just like him, running the 800 meters and winning great championships.
The youth Olympic Games Nanjing 2014:
Last year you went to Nanjing for the Asian Youth Championship, and it was your first competition abroad. How did you prepare for this competition and what happened exactly in the competition?
The Asian Youth Championship was my first international competition. At that time, I wasn’t aware of the importance of this championship, I was preparing as if it was a Lebanese Championship. The moment I realized it’s importance was when I entered the stadium for competition, and began to feel the stress of the competition. When I was running, I couldn’t realize where I am or why I am here. I felt that my opponents were better than me, and at the finish line, instead of passing two athletes, I slowed down unconsciously. After the race was done, I started crying because I understood what happened in the race. I finished 8th in the 1500 meters. The same thing happened in the 800 meters the next day. I also cried and even harder after the 800 meters.
What did you learn from this experience?
I learned that I am strong, and that I can be stronger than my opponents. Not if I come from a country that isn’t know as a strong country in track and field that I can’t show the world the opposite.
You were supposed to compete in the Asian Qualifications for the YOG in Thailand next month, but they informed you that you were qualified for the Youth Olympics! What happened when you first heard the news knowing that the YOG happen once in a lifetime?
When I heard the news, I screamed, opened my arms and started running like a fool on the track. I did a full lap and went back to practice. But I didn’t realize that even if i was very excited. After training I sat down with my coach, talked about the great news, and finally realized the importance of what happened earlier.
How was your preparation going for Thailand? Were you scared of non qualifying for the Games?
I was terrified, I wasn’t ready for it at all, not mentally and not physically ready. I was relieved knowing that I was qualified.
Now that you are relieved knowing that you don’t have a qualification to pass, how you intend to prepare for the Games, and what you’re plans will be once you are there?
I thought I had enough time to prepare, but now I need to get myself together, focus on my training and be more serious than I was.
At the olympics, I will do my best and stick to Elie’s plan.
You are very few to be chosen to participate in the Olympics, of course you don’t know how lucky you are, what do you expect from this experience?
It will make me proud of myself, proud to represent my country at the Olympic Games. Its an honor for me and for my family.
After the YOG, the target will be… Rio de Janeiro?
Before the Rio Olympics, there is the World Youth Championship next year in Ecuador. I want to qualify for the world championships, and of course after it my eyes will turn to rio.
What is your ultimate long term goal?
To be become an OLYMPIC CHAMPION!
In few days you are participating in the Arab Juniors Championship and you are a “Youth", what do you expect from this competition and how did you prepare for it?
I knew about this championship 1 week ago, so it was a shock for me. I am not mentally ready for this, but I hope I will do great and bring a Gold medal for Lebanon.
What are your goals for 2014?
I want to break the 2:15 barrier in 800m, 4:40 in 1500, 2:58 in 1000m. I also target a medal in the Arab Juniors Championship and in the Arab School championship.
You are one of the most talented teen ager in Lebanon, all sports included, do you intend to go train abroad or turn professional by changing your life style?
It is something that crosses your mind from time to time. But i don’t want to quit my country and my coach Elie Saade, because he’s an amazing coach, and he’s the one who made me. I want to prove that even if I stay in Lebanon and I continue studying in university and working like normal people, I can do something big. Not everyone who quits his country will do better in another.
Do you have a sponsor or anyone who is supporting you to accomplish your dream?
Unfortunately, I don’t have one. But i would love to have one, it can help me a lot in my journey.
Who helped you and supported you throw this path?
My family, my friends and my teammates supported me throw this. When I go through phases where I want to quit and stop training, my parents are always there to support me and encourages me to go train. They are my parents,
they know what it’s best for me.
What would you like to say to your Coach Elie Saade, who discovered you and initiated you to athletics, and made your dream come true?
Elie gives everything he has to us, he sacrifices a lot for us, he stays up nights to prepare my very precise training program. I would like to tell him, that he is more than a coach to me, he is my second father. I learned a lot from him not only in athletics but in life in general. He puts his hopes in me and I’m not worth it. Without him, I couldn’t be at the level I am today and wouldn’t achieve all the things that I have done so far.
Do you have any advice for the young athletes in Lebanon and around the world?
Don’t waste your time when you are a teen ager because it is the most important years in your career, not only by skipping training, but also don’t waste time in the training. And if you have a talent don’t neglect it because you are the only loser at the end.
From left to right: Sara Joe Kortbawi, Sandy Karam, Lory Tashjian, Arine Kassabian