When Lisa Campbell was a child, representing her county on the track, she never thought she would have her own athletic club. But after moving to the UAE, working as a teacher, and going on to have her own family, she realised that an academy for rising stars was just what the region needed. And having established the very successful Ultimate Athletics in Dubai, she opened its sister academy in Abu Dhabi to enable the talent in the capital to shine.
“After the success in Dubai we wanted to bring it to the residents of Abu Dhabi,” she tells us. “The keen athletes from Abu Dhabi used to travel to Dubai for our Saturday morning session at 8am. I wanted to give them something locally, so they didn’t have to get up so early!”
It is this commitment to her athletes and to the sport that she loves which helps set Ultimate Athletics apart, and Campbell is a great advocate for the many benefits hitting the track brings.
“It’s such a personal sport. You are your own competitor, critic, enemy and rival. It’s you, the track and the watch! You put in the training, you will get the results,” she promises us with a determined grin.
Campbell believes the benefits of athletics are immense for children and will help them in other sports. The generic skills of running, jumping and throwing are at the core of most sports, so learning these properly can help children to increase their prowess, be it on the football pitch, netball court or gymnasium.
The fact you can go it alone on the track means you don’t even have to be a team player to be a success. “Those children who don’t necessarily have the desire or ability for competitive team sports can find their passion and talent among the wide variety of track and field events,” says Campbell.
Athletics, she believes, is so diverse that it makes a great foundation for a healthy lifestyle, and the habits started in young athletes will likely continue into adulthood, with running remaining part of the weekly exercise regime.
And one of Campbell’s rising stars is keen to support her views on the sport they love.
Marlene Van Der Linde, a 12-year-old middle distance runner, who ran 800m in 2mins 37secs last season, says: “It’s supposed to be hard, but the hard is what makes it great. I keep pushing myself everyday with this quote in mind to reach my target time of 2mins 22secs this season. Never give up.”
For middle distance athletes such as Van Der Linde, the sport offers a chance to compete in road races and other events in the region, but Campbell noticed that there was little in the way of track meetings, besides the ones in the schools, so she created her own. The ‘Open
Athletics Racenights’ are held monthly in Dubai and at the end of each term in Abu Dhabi. “These give our athletes a reason to train and a chance to track their progression over the season through regular timings and a league table. We like to keep track of what is happening in the UK and submit any electronic timings to The Power of 10 rankings and have a few athletes in the top Great Britain ratings.”
Campbell believes the sport has an event suited to every body type, with the throwing events suited to the endomorphs, the endurance events and high jump suited to the lean and often tall ectomorphs and the sprint events suited to the mesomorphs. And if you’re still lacking inspiration to hit the track, watch the professionals in action. “Athletics is the highlight of any Olympic Games and a sport filled with passion and history,” says Campbell.
So, grab your trainers and get going!
Ultimate Athletics, New York University Abu Dhabi (050 225 7024).