Dr. Nasser Al Mohannadi, author of HBKU Press’s How to Be an Ironman, discusses how sport is the foundation for success
It was 1988, and I still remember sitting in front of the small TV at home in Al Thakira, completely captivated by what I was witnessing – the 1988 Ironman World Championship. My mother remembers being amazed at the sight of me, her youngest child – usually bouncing off the walls with boundless amounts of energy – sitting frozen for hours watching as the contestants swam, biked, and ran to glory. I didn’t know it then but seeing these top athletes leave behind their blood, sweat, and tears as they raced along the Hawaiian coastline would shape the course of my life forever.
Fast forward to April 2016, where I was competing in my first Ironman Triathlon, in South Africa. I swam 3.8km, biked 180km, and ran 42.2km in one of the most difficult Ironman courses in the world. It took me 14 hours and 45 minutes to complete, but it was the culmination of 28 years of preparation, a lifetime of training, and the fulfilment of a childhood dream. And, at the time, I was one of the first Qataris ever to complete a full Ironman race.
Though the bricks that have made up my life center around my career – as a petroleum engineer, a professor, a vice president for corporate planning and development, and most recently as a best-selling author – sport has been the cement that has held together the many facets of the person I am today.
Training for triathlons and endurance competitions, like the Ironman, taught me the skills I’ve needed to succeed in every aspect of my life. Sport challenges us and helps build a growth mindset: no one is a professional…yet. As with anything in life, everyone starts at the beginning, and it’s how you move forward that determines your success.
The Ironman taught me that mental preparation is just as important as physical training. I was never a strong swimmer, and the thought of swimming in the open ocean brought back flashbacks of nearly drowning as a child. These mental hurdles present themselves in everyday life as well. They can be the reason why you don’t ask for a promotion, why you don’t pursue a degree, why you don’t advocate for yourself. Mastering your mind in sport and in life is an important step.
Next comes the physical training. This is a stage marked by patience and consistency. As in any sport, training has to be part of your everyday life. Nothing happens overnight, and nothing happens if you don’t pursue your goals with real effort. You don’t suddenly become a top athlete, just like you don’t suddenly become a CEO.
Finally, after many injuries and setbacks comes the hard lesson of persistence and growth. The path to success on the playing field, or in any other area of life, is almost never linear. Persistence means knowing when to push forward despite obstacles or to take a break, rest, reorganize, and try again later. Persistence is about putting one foot in front of the other, slowly but surely – either in the same direction or on a new path entirely. Cultivating a growth mindset could be the most important thing you ever do to help to develop, grow, and achieve your goals.
In my autobiography, How to Be an Ironman – published by Qatar Foundation’s HBKU Press in 2018 – I outline these lessons and my experiences, and I emphasize the value of sport and endurance, not just in combatting health problems like obesity, but also in building character.
Over the past few decades, Qatar has undergone a remarkable transformation in terms of economic growth and physical development. I’m proud to say that Qatar is one of the few nations that has dedicated a day to health and wellness, where there are countless free sporting sessions and social competitions – open to all ages and abilities – to ensure everyone has the opportunity to participate. Qatar National Sport Day reminds us that we should be thinking about the role that sport plays in creating a healthy community, both physically and psychologically.
It is important to remember that the mindset required to succeed in a sport is not unique to this field. A growth mindset can be applied to any area and one that should be adopted year-round, by all Qataris and residents, to foster the growth and prosperous future of our country. We celebrate Qatar National Sport Day just once a year, but in reality the State of Qatar – with its the newly developed infrastructure, including more green spaces and bike trails, as well as countless wellness initiatives and campaigns – is encouraging the public to be active, to think like an athlete, and prioritize their health. And with all the tools we need at our disposal to master the physical barriers, a growth mindset is surely within the grasp of every individual.
There are many skills that can be developed through sport, each uniquely important and applicable to everyday life – and you don’t have to be a professional athlete or an Olympic champion to benefit. As the old saying goes, life is a sport – and what you lack in talent, you can more than make up for by mastering your growth mindset, and by being patient, persistent, and consistent. It’s the difference between failure and triumph.
Dr. Nasser Al-Mohannadi is VP Corporate Planning and Development at North Oil Company. He has traveled to more than 150 different countries and is a founding member and president of the Qatari Triathlon Club. His book, How to Be an Ironman, is available in bookstores across Qatar and through various international distributors.