Dubai, UAE: Not so long ago, Hamad Al Sabri was like most 15-year-old boys. He loved junk food and his idea of physical activity was thumbing buttons on his PlayStation.
He weighed 75 kilograms and while he knew his sedentary lifestyle was bad for his health, he lacked the self motivation needed to make a change.
“I felt I couldn’t wear the clothes I wanted to, like skinny jeans. I was bullied in school for being fat and unfit and I felt very uncomfortable going to the beach,” said Hamad, who was barred from a running competition at school this year because of his weight.
But three months ago he decided enough was enough and joined the Intisaar initiative. That programme was launched early this summer to help Emirati youths to get fit and healthy.
The free programme, the name of which means victory in Arabic, puts youths between 15 and 18 through mental and physical training, with impressive results.
Hamad has lost 11kg and he said that his whole outlook on life has changed, radically.
“I wanted to change my life for the better,” he said.
Hamad has been training at the gym six days a week, waking at 4.50am to travel from his home in Jaffaliya to Al Quoz, before school starts at 7.15am.
His body fat has dropped from 32 per cent to 13 per cent – he no longer eats fast food.
Shedding the excess kilos has made it possible for him to take part in endurance horse races, one of his family’s traditions.
The Intisaar programme’s ambassador, Mohammed Kassim, 30, lost 100kg in 18 months, going from 197kg to 97kg. He said he wanted to inspire other Emiratis to change their lifestyles using natural methods and not through surgery.
“Because of the lifestyle here, people aren’t thinking about fitness until they get sick or something happens to them,” said Mr Kassim, who has been mentoring six boys in programme.
Hamad said the camaraderie among the young Emiratis is a positive influence. “I like that there’s a group of Emiratis of a similar age training together and competing against each other, developing new skills,” said the boy, who felt healthier, more energetic and slept better since taking up his fitness regime.
Marcus Smith, 37, who has been leading the initiative at Inner Fight gym in Al Quoz, said the programme has been great for the Emirati community but could face some challenges as it grows, particularly with transport. “We want these kids to succeed. That’s why we named it Intisaar, a name they could relate to straight away,” he said.
Mr Smith said he has been impressed by Hamad’s progress. “He couldn’t even move properly when he came,” he said. “He’s worked hard and has changed completely.” With his new lifestyle going well, the schoolboy said he planned to try out for his school’s running competition once more. “This time next year I will apply again and will hopefully get it,” he said.
© The NationalAug 2015