|Ali Wehbi at the North Pole|
|Ali Wehbi at Tanzania's Uhuru Peak|
Interview with Ali. S. Wehbi, Extreme Runner, Adventurer:
Overcoming challenges, promoting social causes*
On my last visit to Lebanon I had the privilege of interviewing Mr. Ali S. Wehbi an Extreme Runner, Adventurer. Lebanonization is synonymous with communal conflict and the breakdown of the state. The news from Lebanon is almost always depressing due to one conflict or another. News coverage is biased to the negative, to bad news. But there is also good news- news that inspire, that give hope and provide a good example for all of us. Such a news story is Ali Wehbi’s story. Ali’s story is a great inspiration. When his mother died of cancer in 2005, Ali felt helpless. There was nothing that could be done medically to save the life of the person whom he loved most in the whole world. To cope with this loss, he decided to challenge himself and help others. Ali was always an athlete. He jogged and played basketball. The trauma of the loss pushed him to embrace extreme running, for a cause. He decided to push himself to overcome most challenging runs while helping causes in Lebanon. He ran for the Brave Heart fund (by running the Lebanese coast, from the Northern border to the Southern, 240km in 29h35m), ran at the north pole for the Red Cross (The Red Cross Flag from the North Pole to the ICRC), climbed the Kilimanjaro summit, Tanzania, in the memory of Talal Kassem, Roads for Life and helped raise funds and awareness about autism in Lebanon (by running 12 marathons in 12 days around Lebanon). Ali continues to challenge himself. In April 2015 he is planning to run 1000km (Beirut - Beirut) around Lebanon to help the fundraising to create a blood bank for the Lebanese Red Cross. In 2016 he is planning to run from Lebanon to Mecca (50 Days, 50 Marathons Throughout LEBANON, SYRIA, The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan & KINGDOM OF SAUDI ARABIA ) to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the passing away of his mother and to help fund raising to support 10 children with cancer for 1 year. He is working on a book project and continues to give motivational speech engagements.
The following are excerpts from this interview.
Forum &Link: Thank you for taking the time for this interview. Tell me a little about your background.
Wehbi: I am an ordinary Lebanese man who took up a challenge to help myself and help others. I was born in Lebanon and spent a number of years living in France. I have a degree in business and computers from France and work as an ICT consultant. I am happily married with two children.
F & L: Are you a professional Extreme Runner, Adventurer?
Wehbi: I am not a professional runner. Professional runners all they do is run and they have a big budget and team. I am semi professional- I still have a day job as a consultant, but I am keen on turning pro to give more and better focus for my efforts and the causes I promote.
F &L: What got you into extreme running; this is not the easiest activity to undertake, especially in a place like Lebanon?
Wehbi: The death of my mother from cancer was traumatic. It was sudden. I wanted an outlet for the intense feelings of loss and pain. I took on running. There are a lot of people facing health difficulties and many organizations helping them. I run for personal reasons and for social reasons. I help give social causes media coverage and thus help their funding. I run for myself and for others.
F &L: You told me you wake up early in the morning to run in all kinds of weather. What gives you the energy the motivation? What challenges do you face?
Wehbi: I am driven and focused. Running in Lebanon is harder than in other countries. In Lebanon there is no infrastructure to have a proper training or park. I run on the roads and for safety reasons very early in the morning. I start very early sometimes as early as 3 a.m., especially when I have a long run (5 to 8hrs). Every Saturday I run Saida - Beirut, so I have to be up very early. Many days the weather is awful and I would rather sleep. But I get up, get dressed and hit the road. I have discipline and determination.
F & L: How do you balance extreme running, consulting and being a father and a husband?
Wehbi: Extreme running and the commitment of time it require a big part of my time. I have no social life and I wish I could spend more time with my friends and family whom I dearly love. I run very early and spend afternoons with my kids. But sometime I have fitness training in the afternoon at the 180 degrees Gym & Spa a great place to exercise and their support I appreciate much. Many times I have a 2nd run end in the afternoon so I spend the early evening with them. As for work most of the time I do my work in the morning. My wife is a great source of sup and encouragement. My wife is in the medical field so she take care of all my nutrition and medical issues. She is part of what I do, and all the time support me. Her support and dedication is priceless and she is a big part of my life and what I do.
F &L: Are your children athletes? Are they going to be like you?
Wehbi: Yes, they play basketball, tennis and they are in my support team during the big run and help in the support association. About going to be like me as to extreme running, I don’t know but I know they already want to be with the Red Cross Youth once they are 18. They play sports and are socially conscious- I am happy with that.
F & L: Tell me about your extreme running. What were the most challenging experiences?
Wehbi: Well all of them were challenging. I ran in the desert with +50 Celsius temperature and in -50 C (Antarctica and North Pole), but I can tell the hardest one maybe the North Pole. For the North Pole run I had to train inside a freezer of a big supermarket in Beirut to get used to running in the extreme cold weather of the North Pole. Imagine I was running on a treadmill in a freezer surrounded by frozen food and meat. Running Lebanon last year was a hard task too. I had to run every day and give presentations and motivation speeches at schools and universities in the afternoon so I had no rest during the 12- day run.
F &L: Do you get any financial support from any organization or individuals?
Wehbi: BankMed is my main sponsor. Alfa, one of the two operating GSM networks in Lebanon, is supporting me in my Lebanon Run also I have a sports partner with the 180 degrees Gym & Spa Lebanon. The Red Cross sends a team of their volunteers to accompany me in the run. The Lebanese government, the Interior ministry, handles security. They are all wonderful and I am grateful to all of them.
F &L: What awards have you received?
Wehbi: In 2007 I was awarded the Lebanese Order of Merit by President Emil Lahoud, the President of the Republic of Lebanon. In 2012 I was awarded the National Order of the Cedar, Knight Grade by President Michel Suleiman the President of the Republic of Lebanon. I was given an award by the Red Cross as well.
F &L: What are your plans?
Wehbi: #Road2MACCA is one of my biggest dreams I am working on, as well I want to write a book about endurance, hope and resilience. A book about challenging ourselves to achieve our potential, about how it’s hard, but not impossible, to be an athlete and live in a country like Lebanon, where I had to run under bomb during the 2006 war, and finally about motivation and determination.
F &L: You have an inspiring story. Would you accept an invitation to speak before Lebanese or Arab communities in the United States?
Wehbi: I would welcome this opportunity. I like to speak to the youth. I think the problem we have with the youth today is that they are fixated on indoor electronic gadgets. They need to go out more. Another issue is that personal setbacks can trigger withdrawal or even depression in some people. I say we should channel energy positively. I enjoy speaking before audiences about my story. I want to inspire the youth to channel frustrations and setbacks into positive energy.
F &L: Have you ever visited the US?
Wehbi: Yes, twos time before. But I would love to visit again. If I get an invitation I would definitely come.
F &L: Any final words?
Wehbi: I want to thank my sponsors BankMed, Alfa and 180 degrees Gym & Spa. I want to thank the Red Cross for ensuring my health and for Lebanese Internal Security Forces for providing me with security while running. I want to thank the organizations that provided me the opportunity to help them get exposure and funds for their worthy causes. Special thanks to the Forum and Link and its publisher Dr. Asad Dandashli for this opportunity.
* Interview will appear in the Forum and Link on 1/29/2015. www.forumandlinkcom
* Interview will appear in the Forum and Link on 1/29/2015. www.forumandlinkcom
The following sources provide more information on Ali Wehbi: