Nagwa Ghorab, 70+ Worldwide Swimming Championship, Feb. 1, 2018 - Photo courtesy of Nagwa Ghorab Nagwa Ghorab, 70+ Worldwide Swimming Championship, Feb. 1, 2018 - Photo courtesy of Nagwa Ghorab

Talking to 70+ Egyptian U.S. Masters Swimming Champion Nagwa Ghorab

Thu, Feb. 1, 2018
CAIRO – 1 February 2018: Who said life becomes more difficult as we age? Nagwa Ghorab is not only an Egyptian woman who decided to fiercely defy time, but she also won dozens of medals in world championships, as one of the best 70+ senior swimmers and made it to the Nationwide U.S. Masters Swimming Championship at the age of 74!

Nagwa became an inspiration to many people around the world, who blame their failure on their circumstances and the obstacles they face in their lives, believing these obstacles stop them from achieving great things. Nagwa does not believe that there is such thing as “impossible”, thinking it is nothing but an empty word, making her a true icon worldwide for achieving your goals if you believe in them. Ghorab happily told Egypt Today her amazing story.

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Nagwa Ghorab, Feb. 1, 2018 - Photo courtesy of Nagwa Ghorab

ET: How would you introduce yourself?

I am a 100 percent Egyptian woman and I am proud of this. I was born in Damanhur in 1943, and my father, Youssef Ghorab, was a police officer. I had a happy childhood with my tight-knit family. My father always encouraged me to do sports, especially since he was an equestrian Olympics champion, and King Farouk honored him more than once.


I began to love sports, and my family encouraged me to take it up. Therefore, I consider my father my role model and the force behind my success all these years, not only as a swimmer. When I was a child, I practised horse riding, but I was more into swimming as a four-year old, especially since swimming was not as expensive as horse riding. Back then, horse riding was not affordable for us, neither was buying my own horse to practice.


ET: When did you stop participating in swimming world championships?


In swimming, we have “World Championships”, for which the maximum age of participation is 20-25 years. The champion then no longer participates in them, and begins to practice swimming as a physical sport, not a competitive one. Back in the days, this age even used to be 18 years only.


At 18, I won the title of “Champion of the Republic”, and I practised synchronized swimming until I turned 20. I then stopped swimming as per these laws, until a new kind of championships began to be held, that is “Swimming Masters”.

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Nagwa Ghorab, Feb. 1, 2018 - Photo courtesy of Nagwa Ghorab

ET: What does that entail?


Egypt took up this system for the second time in 2004, and it gives “masters” or “seniors” the equal opportunity to participate in swimming championships exactly like “juniors”. World Masters Swimming Championships are held all over the world. When I knew that this system has been enforced in Egypt once again, I did not hesitate to participate. I have always been proud to represent Egypt in international events, and I did gain the first rank in the Championship.

ET: What did you do when you turned 20 and temporarily stopped swimming?


I pursued my academic studies. I loved painting and asked for my father’s approval to let me study it academically, and he did not mind. I studied painting in the Leonardo da Vinci School, which grants a certificate that equals a university graduate certificate. One year after my graduation, I studied French at the Faculty of Arts, graduated and worked as a teacher at the Al-Salaam School. I also got married and had three girls.


ET: How was your journey toward participation in the Masters Swimming Championship? We are talking about a 45-year wait after your last championship!


This is true. I participated in the championship after I retired from my teaching job. I began to retrain at the Heliopolis Sporting Club as a step toward participating in the Championship. I participated in the first one in Turkey. However, the 2010 Sweden World Championship marked a turning point for me, as I came in 11th place. Only then, I realized that I was really close to winning the Championship but need more training and focus. My journey toward international recognition began then. I later participated in Sweden, Austrian, German, French, Italian, Canadian and U.S. Championships.


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Nagwa Ghorab, Feb. 1, 2018 - Photo courtesy of Nagwa Ghorab


“Honoring Egypt was the most important motivation”


ET: What are the most serious difficulties you have faced and how did you overcome them?


I cannot deny that retraining, either physically or psychologically for swimming championships at this age was not easy. However, just dreaming about becoming a world swimming champion can never make it a reality. Believe me, though, the biggest motivation for me was honoring my country again in world championships. I always daydreamed about the national anthem played and the Egyptian flag raised while I received the trophy. I also used to hear some Europeans underestimating Egyptian women swimmers’ abilities, so I decided to prove them wrong, not by words, but by actions. I trained rigorously, not only to prove that Egyptian women can win and that they have outstanding abilities but that they can also outperform others.


ET: Did you seek help from anybody during that period?


Not at all. I believe that when one wants to do something, they will find a way. They just need to strongly believe in it. A strong human being can achieve everything on their own. A human being with will power can do whatever they want.


ET: What was your family’s reaction to your decision to take up this challenge?


I have four grandchildren. Knowing me, my daughters and my grandchildren did not think of it as a “challenge”. They were not surprised. On the contrary, they were extremely proud of me. They knew that swimming was my passion. I was 68 years old when I announced I was going back to participate in world championships. It was in Sweden, and I got the silver medal in the 50-meter freestyle swimming competition, with a time of 42 seconds. I remember all people were amazed at this.

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Nagwa Ghorab, Feb. 1, 2018 - Photo courtesy of Nagwa Ghorab

“Half a banana is enough”

ET: Can you tell us more about your daily training routine?


I follow a strict training schedule and diet. I start my day early and set specific times for everything I do. I wake up, drink my coffee and head to the club for my training. I only eat half a banana before getting into the pool. I train from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m., I then have my breakfast, which is usually fruits and yoghurt. I live on yoghurt, fruits and vegetables and have never added sugar to my food or drinks for more than 30 years!


ET: What are the most important championships you have recently won?


I won five medals in five World Championships. I won the gold medal in Russia in 2015 and I was 72 then. I won another two bronze medals too. I also participated in the Nationwide U.S. Masters Swimming Championship (for seniors aged 70-74 years old) in North Carolina and I got three medals, one of them was a silver medal for the 50-meter backstrokes competition. This was amazing, and it proved to America that Egyptian women can take up challenges and win. They were truly astonished when I was on the podium.


ET: Tell us about a moment you can never forget when you participated in one of these championships.


When I was in the French International Championship in 2011, I ranked second in the 50-meter freestyle competition. While I was receiving my silver medal, French people gave me a standing ovation, showing their respect for an Egyptian woman whose country was going through turbulent times, after the January 25 Revolution. This was one of the most difficult and beautiful moments in my life, as I felt appreciated by these noble French people. People do understand everything going on in other countries.


ET: Who do you consider your role model in swimming?


The legendary Abdellatief Abouheif, and when I say “legendary”, I absolutely mean it and I am not using it as a metaphor. This man did the impossible, either on the athletic level, in terms of fitness and ability to compete in world championships, and on the moral level. He has done many great things for his competitors, like for example giving up the prize money to the losing competitor, or sharing the prize money with a colleague going through a difficult time.


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Nagwa Ghorab with her granddaughter, Feb. 1, 2018 - Photo courtesy of Nagwa Ghorab

ET: Have you ever considered retiring from sports?


I do not believe in retiring from sports until death. Humans can give, no matter how old they are. Sports are a great blessing, and people should never stop practicing them throughout their lives.


ET: Are you participating in any future championships?


Yes, in 2019 I will participate in a championship in Korea. I am determined to win a new medal in the competitions for seniors aged 75-79 years old. I have already started training for it.
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