The Class of 2018 honorees in the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame have gathered in England this coming weekend for their induction ceremony on March 31st 2018 at The Chapel, Beaumont Estate, Old Windsor, UK.
Chairman Ned Denison and hundreds of his IMSHOF colleagues and guests will welcome the individuals who represent the largest group of honorees to be inducted in a single year over the institution’s history.
Of those individuals, Mohamed Ahmed Marouf will be the ninth Egyptian to be honored by the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame, following in the wake of Abdull Latif Abu-Heif (1964), General Omar Sabry (1965), Hassan Abdel Rehim (1966), Shadia El-Ragheb (1971), Major General Ahmed Zorkani (1973), Nasser Elshazly (1979), Ishak Helmy (1980), and Dr. Osama Ahmed Momtaz (2007).
He discussed his career as an athlete, coach and administrator:
Daily News of Open Water Swimming: You have competed both as a coach and as an athlete in international competitions, both in the pool and the open water. What have been your most interesting and challenging swims to compete as a swimmer and as a coach?
Mohamed Ahmed Marouf: In fact, they are different sports and for sure different feeling as a swimmer and coach, but I enjoy more with open water when I was a swimmer. Every race had different challenges versus in the pool which was only against time and other swimmers. In the open water, there are many challenges like weather, water temperature, waves, etc. so it was so much fun.
Daily News of Open Water Swimming: You started your career in Egypt and are now in Canada. Can you explain how you started as one of the top Egyptian swimmers and are now one of the top Canadian coaches?
Mohamed Ahmed Marouf: In Egypt, we used to have a lot of good open water swimmers. I was lucky I got some advice from some of them that helped me a lot as a swimmer and coach. Also, I used what I learned from sports science from my sports master degree. With my Canadian swimmers, sports has become a combination of science and experience.
Daily News of Open Water Swimming: Swimming in the Nile River has a long history, but is not well-known outside of Egypt by many younger swimmers. Can you explain the different races and training that you did in the Nile River during your younger years?
Mohamed Ahmed Marouf: In the Nile River, the water is very heavy with a lot of currents so we used to swim in it once a week to get used to the hard conditions. Believe me, it was lots of very hard training.
Daily News of Open Water Swimming: There are many famous Egyptian professional marathon swimmers. Who are some of the Egyptian swimmers who you look up to?
Mohamed Ahmed Marouf: Our Godfather was Abou Heif. I loved him a lot. I was going to eat breakfast at his house some time after morning practices. Nasser Elshazly was my hero. I wish one day that I become as strong as he is.
Daily News of Open Water Swimming: You still hold the record for the 26.4 km swim in Lake Zurich (International Self-Transcendence Marathon-Schwimmen) after many decades. Can you tell us about that race?
Mohamed Ahmed Marouf: No one will believe me when I went to Zürich the water was so cold so I told my coach, “Listen I will swim fast in order to get warm. I started the race fast as a sprint. I kept moving my arms just to end the 26 km race fast. Then I stopped after 5 hours when I spoke with my coach. I told him that I think I’m done, I’m freezing. He asked me to swim one more kilometer. Then I stopped again and told him I’m freezing. He asked me to look in front of me. I was so close to the end that I kept swimming fast and touched the finish line and I climbed out of the water fast. I said it is last time I will swim here, but in fact, it was my favorite place and a lovely city. Then, I received the news that I set a new record.
Daily News of Open Water Swimming: What were some of your favorite marathon swims or races? Why?
I loved all the Argentina marathon races, especially Maratón Internacional Hernandarias – Paraná and Maratón Acuática Internacional Ciudad de Rosario. Also Maratón Acuática Internacional Santa Fe – Coronda where there are the most beautiful people. Tapes in Brazil was amazing one; it was like a family marathon and at night we went all to dance and enjoy the life of Brazil. Traversée Internationale du lac Memphrémagog in Canada was great; it was very clean and a pretty city with a very nice organizing committee. In fact, I enjoy all the open water marathons.
Daily News of Open Water Swimming: You are very interested in sharing your love and passion for open water swimming with young swimmers. What are some of your projects or camps that you are doing to promote open water swimming?
Mohamed Ahmed Marouf: When I start work in Canada, I was forced to build an open water swim team and ask my young swimmers to participate. In fact, it has made them enjoy swimming and kept them in good shape. I coached many national open water Canadian swimmers. I coached the first junior Canadian open water team and I was so proud to do that. In fact, I’m so happy with what I did in Canada and now I start my new job in Saudi Arabia. I hope that I succeed to accomplish something.
Daily News of Open Water Swimming: You met your wife in lac St-Jean and now have children. Do any of your children swim?
Mohamed Ahmed Marouf: I believe sports is so important for kids so I let them try. But I started with all of then with swimming. My oldest son swam in some regional meets and then switched to other sports. Same as the others, but this is their choice that I have to respect.
Daily News of Open Water Swimming: What do you see in the future of open water swimming? What things do you still want to accomplish in the open water swimming world?
Mohamed Ahmed Marouf: Open water is a great sport. We need to create more events around the world. It is not necessary to be with FINA or FINA rules and not only 5-10 km, but we need to find many different events with many distances and many challenges around the world for kids young and seniors.
Marouf was named as one of the 101 Movers And Shakers In The Open Water Swimming World in 2012 and 2013 for his work in Quebec, Canada and in his native Egypt.
Over the course of the last two decades, Marouf competed in and coached in races around Europe, in Egypt, in Argentina, and in Canada. He competed in six Traversée Internationale du lac St-Jean events (between 1996 and 2001), represented Egypt at several world championships, set the record at the International Self-Transcendence Marathon-Schwimmen in 1993 that still remains unbroken, raced twice in the 37 km Atlantic City Around The Island Swim, and three Swim Across The Sound events.
But his legacy has arguably been even more established by his passion for coaching. He has long shared his passion for swimming at the club, collegiate and elite levels in Canada and Egypt.
He knows that his swimmers can expect the unexpected in the open water. Some of his experiences in his own career were telling:
During the first half of the 1996 Maratón Acuática Internacional Santa Fe – Coronda race in Argentina, Marouf started to have shoulder problems early in the 57 km FINA Open Water Swimming Grand Prix marathon.
He fought through the pain, but as he passed the 9 km, the pain was too much to bear.
“I did not think I could stay with the pack or even finish the race, so I asked to be pulled out,” recalls the personable multi-lingual swimmer.
With the entire flotilla and rest of the field moving down the river towards the finish 48 km away, there was no turning back.
“I asked my boat escort to stop. They called medical boat that took me to a nearby beach. We waited near a building for few minutes before I asked them to take me to the swimmers’ hotel. They tried to call, but no one answered. I waited for someone to pick me up.” He waited and waited and waited, wearing only my swimsuit with my goggles in my hand.”
Being resourceful and being superbly fit other than his injured shoulder, he set off for the hotel – barefoot and barrel-chested. “Getting pick up did not look good after a while so I took off walking in my swimsuit and goggles along the street.”
Talk about expecting the unexpected. But Marouf, true to his sport, was flexible and adapted to the situation in a country where he did not speak the language. “There was no one where I was and no one was coming to pick me up. There was no protection from the sun. I did not know exactly where the hotel was, but I knew that I could not just sit there or no one would find me.”
Clothed only in his Speedos, Marouf put one foot in front of the other and headed home, or somewhere. He knew that he could not just sit on the banks of the Río Coronda. “It is a pretty isolated part of Argentina, but I finally met a few local people. Unfortunately, I could not speak Spanish and they could not speak Arabic, and body language was not being understood. So I walked some more. And more. And more.”
Marouf, without hydration or directions but never forgetting his goggles, finally made it back to the hotel, several hours after his competitors who had swum the course had finished, showered and relaxed. “They were all wondering what happened to me, but they laughed and smiled because they knew I could make it.”
His way from Cairo to Montreal was not a straight line. Fate and the magic of love were major elements in the equation in his transformation from a national Egyptian champion to a coach in French-speaking Canada.
Back in 1996, the Egyptian Swimming Federation dispatched a coach to work with Marouf at the Traversee internationale du lac St-Jean without consultation of the swimmer.
The coach showed up in Roberval and introduced himself to Marouf, “Hello, I am your coach.”
A day before the race, Marouf was surprised to learn about this new coach who insisted on boarding his escort boat. Instead of working with someone new, Marouf preferred to work with the experienced boat pilots provided by the organizing committee.
This preference by Marouf did not sit well with the coach who had traveled a long way to escort Marouf in the prestigious crossing of lac St-Jean. The two men got in a heated discussion early on race morning. The discussion continued for some time and turned into an argument. “I did not need this stressful situation the morning before the race,” recalls Marouf. “So instead of boarding the swimmers’ bus from the hotel to the start, I decided to take the public bus. I needed to clear my mind and get mentally ready for the race.”
As he walked dejectedly to the bus stop, he lugged all his gear, drinks and bananas that he was fond of eating during the crossing of lac St-Jean. It was most certainly not a good start to what was going to be a very long day.
“I sat down at the public bus stop and met a young girl. We started to talk and she asked me what I was doing so early in the morning. I told her that I was a swimmer in the Traversee internationale du lac St-Jean. She did not believe me.”
Given the prestige that the swimmers hold in the Quebec province and the improbability of meeting a swimmer at a public bus stop, the young women was not to blame for her incredulity. “I tried to convince her that I really was a swimmer and that I had an argument with a coach who I never met before. I tried to explain to her why I needed to relieve my stress before I started the swim. But she refused to believe me. But I asked her for her phone number and told her that I would call her after the swim.”
Marouf finally made it over to the other side of lac St-Jean on public transportation – always thinking about that beautiful young women he met. Although he never saw his coach who ultimately never boarded his escort boat, he started the swim and finished sixth 10 hours 28 minutes later. “It was a rough swim under terrible conditions after two hours, but after the awards ceremony, I finally got back to our hotel. I never forgot the young woman who doubted me and called her around midnight.”
Fate continued to intervene and she answered.
“What are you doing?” Marouf asked.
“Do you know what time it is?” she replied, both slightly disturbed, but also intrigued by this foreign swimmer.
“Yes, I finished the race, but do you want to meet? I need to talk to you,” he pleaded with the energy of a young man who just finished a shower, not an exceedingly difficult 10+ hour professional marathon swim.
She agreed to meet him at the swimmers’ hotel. “She took me up to a beautiful mountain on the most wonderful night. We talked for a long time. It was just what I needed and she seemed to enjoy our second meeting in less than a day. We will both never forget how we met. And, honestly, I have my coach to thank, even though he never coached me and he never got on my boat.”
Soon he will join 269 members of the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame whose legacies have been immortalized with their names inscribed on the IMSHOF Sea Goddess Trophy.
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