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Paula Radcliffe, LAU and the Beirut Marathon: together for peace

LAU and Beirut Marathon partner to bring world marathon champ Paula Radcliffe to Beirut as ambassador of 2015 run.

“Not too long ago, sports were seen as a threat to women’s fertility and marriageability,” said Lina AbiRafeh to an audience gathered at LAU this afternoon to honor marathon world champion Paula Radcliffe. “We know now that sports are in fact highly beneficial to not only the health of women but also to the prospects of young girls the world over,” added the director of LAU’s Institute for Women’s Studies in the Arab World.

Qatari women are now Olympic sprinters, Palestine has women’s football teams and Lebanese women participate in a plethora of sporting competitions internationally. These athletes, like Radcliffe, are inspirations to women and youth in Lebanon and throughout the region. The British champion will be motivating tens of thousands of runners this Sunday with her opening address at the Beirut Marathon. While not running herself, having officially retired from the sport earlier this year, Radcliffe is expected to join Beirut 542, a community- based initiative helping first-time marathoners compete.

“I’m delighted to be here in Lebanon,” said Radcliffe during today’s ceremony. “It’s an amazing country and I have been receiving such a warm welcome since arriving last night.” This is Radcliffe’s first visit to Lebanon, made possible due to a partnership between the Beirut Marathon Association and LAU.

“Our partnership with the marathon is an eternal alliance,” said LAU President Joseph Jabbra in his address to the audience. “We are delighted to have in our midst someone to admire, to pay tribute to and to emulate,” he added before emphasizing Radcliffe’s ability to combine excellence in sport with academic excellence. Despite suffering from asthma, the long-distance runner won her first international title at the age of 19 and gained a first class degree in languages and economics.

“Running gives energy back to me,” said the mother of two, explaining her choice of career. She credits her grandmother with teaching her the importance of dreaming and determination, and her first coach with planting the seeds of perseverance. “When I was 11, he told me to aim for the moon, because even if I miss, I’ll be among the stars.”

Like Radcliffe, today’s master of ceremonies, senior student Mohamad Mawas began running at a young age. He will be competing in the relay race this Sunday with members of the LAU track-and-field team that he established and whose 24 members he coaches. “Running is my escape and the one thing that will never let me down as long as I keep my promise to it,” said Mawas, whose journey began in 2003 with the first Beirut Marathon.

Founder of the marathon May Khalil was also present to welcome Radcliffe and voice her appreciation for LAU, “a place I call home, a true partner and a real change-maker in the way sports are perceived in Lebanon.” Indeed, LAU boasts female students on athletic scholarships among its cohort and, like Khalil, is committed to promoting unity in Lebanon.

“Against all odds we come together every year,” said Khalil. “Celebrating life, hope and love in a popular uprising for the cause of peace; and today we are privileged to welcome the legend Paula Radcliffe, an amazing human being who shares our endeavor for a better world.”


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