Runner’s High: Dr Corina Weber

Dr Corina Weber should have participated in the Boston Marathon this April in what would have been her first marathon outside the UAE. But since Covid presented itself as a hurdle, she ran the 124th edition of the event on a treadmill in the comfort of her home in Abu Dhabi. "It was a proud moment for me as I finished 42.2k in three hours, 41 minutes, which means I could easily qualify for the next edition of the event," says the 48-year-old internal physician from NMC Specialty Hospital.

Growing up in Romania, Dr Corina never imagined herself as a morning person, who would wake early just to go for a run. "I was a chubby, clumsy child who preferred reading books rather than playing outdoors. It got better as a young adult since I tried to stay in shape through biking, swimming and the occasional jog; but I was not really doing regular sports."

Only after arriving in the UAE in 2011 did Dr Corina get into the habit of daily 30-minute sprints across the Abu Dhabi Corniche. "This place inspired me to just go out. Soon I was jogging on the beach, collecting shells and taking photos of the seagulls."

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Now, countless 10k competitions, half marathons and full marathons behind her, her day is not complete without running. She is even the local champion in her age category for most of these events.

Being a medical professional, a mother and a wife, she says she tries to keep her running limited to 40 minutes on most days. "But that is good enough," she says, adding "this would not be possible without the unconditional support of my husband Dr Stefan and son Andre, 13." Both join her for marathons.

Regular physical activity has a huge role to play in stress control, says the doctor, insisting that exercising has helped her immensely in her career as well. It can also offer a massive boost to immunity, while reducing cardiovascular risks and even helping prevent lifestyle-associated health conditions. "Take that covid," she says.

Despite her hectic work schedule, during the lockdown, she clocked 40 runs (240km), which included running in the house and the hallway for 35 minutes on 30m loops. "It was not that I was obsessed with running and couldn’t stop. I just knew that being a Covid doctor and being heavily exposed, I needed my full immunity and stamina to stay healthy. As a physician I have to practice what I’m preaching!"

Dr Corina does a conditioning training session once a week, which includes fun workouts like kick-boxing or vertical gymnastics. Fridays are spent on the Corniche where she runs while Stefan and Andre go biking. "Then we all go for a well-deserved brunch where I ditch the sporty outfits for posh high heels and a cute dress. I’m still a girl, albeit a fast-running one."

Corina says regular exercise helps her cope with the rigors of being a doctor treating Covid patients

To say marathons only provide health goals would be an understatement for her. "When I have a good long run, I feel I’m just floating and cruising, allowing my thoughts to cruise even smoother. And if you ask about the famous ‘runner’s high’, it absolutely exists," she says. "It’s the sudden realisation that every step I take is an intense gratitude prayer for my good health, for my family’s wellbeing, for the love I receive from my friends and for being allowed to maybe spread a little goodness in this world [through my work]. And that’s worth all the foot pains, blue toenails and blisters.

"I also feel very proud when my patients come back feeling better after improving their lifestyle and maybe staying motivated to continue, despite time constraints and professional stress."

Determined goals: Varun Raina

Varun Raina was diagnosed with pervasive developmental disorder (autism spectrum disorder) at a very young age. Realising that young Varun was putting on weight and needed some physical activity, his parents enrolled him in the gym at age nine. "We were in Jakarta back then and the transformation was almost instant," recalls mother Neena. "Varun soon became passionate in keeping his body fit, enjoying kick-boxing and horse riding."

Moving to Dubai in 2012, Neena and her friend Arti Khazanchi founded Tender Hearts Arena (a recreational centre for determined children), which offers several recreational activities such as yoga, martial arts, dance, theatre and sports.

In 2013, he enrolled in Dubai Little League, a community baseball group for special needs children and quickly proved that he could easily qualify for the regular team. "He is not academically oriented as he has motor skill issues. But he is very creative and enjoys theatre, dancing and has even sung at the Dubai Opera," says Neena.

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Varun, now 21 and a year-five student of Hindustani classical music, is doing an 18-month course in multimedia to hone his creative skills and to master different computer applications which he is passionate about. A certified skill at the end of the course would improve his career opportunities, he feels.

Recreational activities like martial arts and group sports have helped to increase his confidence immensely. His social communication has improved greatly as has his hand-eye coordination, motor skills and ability to take instructions and be a team player. After classes he ensures an hour of fitness routine at the gym, followed by yoga exercises along with swimming and cycling every day at home. He is also a silver level sailor at Sailability in the Dubai Offshore Sailing Club.

Varun is now a proficient athlete rider and swimmer
Stefan Lindeque

Varun has interned at various schools, including the Emirates International School in Jumeirah where he helped organise the library, as an assistant to the music teacher at JSS International and as an assistant to the dance teacher at Ambassador School.

Neena feels children like Varun can be very successful in the athletic field and even pursue jobs like assistant PE trainers and sport coaches.

Under water it’s the old normal: Arjan Baks

Even though Dutch Enterprise Consultant Arjan Baks did his PADI Open Water course in 1999, he became a regular diver only after coming to Abu Dhabi in 2017. And that’s mainly because "I don’t like cold water", he says.

Having done close to 300 dives, the 57-year-old says diving is his favourite de-stressing technique. Immersing the body and mind into water and getting to enjoy the beautiful aquatic life forms is, he says, a liberating and mind-expanding experience. "When on a boat on our way to/from a dive site, I rarely if ever look at my phone; I simply enjoy the ride. I am immersed in the total experience," he says.

The same happens when he is on a dive. "During the dive I only think about diving and not about work. To me this is one of the best ways to detach from work, work pressures and all other problems in life."

He and his wife Jolande learned to dive back in 1998 in the Caribbean and even got their Open Water Certification together.

"I was 36 at that time,’ recollects Arjan, ‘I haven’t looked back since but Jolande does not dive anymore. Our son, Stefan, who is back in the Netherlands, is an avid diver and also enjoys the warm waters of Abu Dhabi when he comes down.’

According to Arjan, UAE diving sites and the neighbouring sites (like around Oman) are a diver’s paradise as there is wide variety of things to explore under water. "The east coast of the peninsula is different from the west coast and Mussandam in terms of water quality, marine life and the diving experience."

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Abu Dhabi has a variety of diving spots in terms of both natural reefs and wrecks. "If I were to pick a wreck, it would probably be the MV Hannan (a small coastal vessel that lies with her stern roughly pointing north.) As a result of currents, you will find large shoals of fish congregating on this wreck. It is reasonably intact and of a decent size.

"For a reef, I would pick Saadiyat where we do reef checks and find lots of sea life. The location is relatively shallow, making it a good dive spot for photography."

Arjan invested in a high-end camera recently marking his beginning as an underwater photographer. "I’m making lots of mistakes and should practice more, but it will give me all the more reason to dive more," he says, with a laugh.

He also participates in reef checks, a standardised programme to help monitor the health of the underwater world.

"I did several speciality courses with Al Mahara (diving centre) and qualified as Divemaster about a year ago. Since then I frequently help them leading fun dives and doing refreshers courses for divers who have not dived for a while. Al Mahara has a great crew and operates two boats from the Beach Rotana hotel."

With close to 300 dives, Arjan says diving is his favourite de-stressing activity

For diving enthusiasts, the initial investment can be considered on the high end, but the training and certification is for life and the equipment will last for many dives, if taken care of properly. Scuba diving equipment can also be rented with most dive centres, but most "regular divers" opt to invest in getting their own equipment after a few dives.

Due to Covid restrictions, Arjan had to stop diving for a short while but he resumed by the end of May. "I sure missed it. I take extra precautions to keep safe. The number of passengers on the boat are still restricted, but I’m glad to be back in the water!"

Scuba diving safety during Covid entails that equipment is disinfected carefully after each dive, face masks above water surface are standard and so is hand sanitizing. "But once underwater, everything is like the ‘old normal’."

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