79-Year-Old Egyptian Swimmer Breaks Records

Nagwa Ghorab to Majalla: "I hope to participate in Senior Olympics 2022 this year”
Nagwa Ghorab, 70+ Worldwide Swimming Championship- Photo courtesy of Nagwa Ghorab

There is nothing impossible, and age is not an obstacle to being a world champion. This was confirmed by the Egyptian swimming champion Nagwa Ghorab, who won the world championship in her seventies. Age was not an obstacle to achieving her ambitions. With a firm will and with Abdel Latif Abu Heif as her ideal, she was able to outdo the Russians, Germans, and the French.

Her white hair and the signs of time and experience only increased her determination. Nagwa is a woman who does not know the impossible and lives for her dream.  She is made of steel and it was her persistence and determination that turned her house into a museum for medals of honor and certificates of appreciation.

“I am purely Egyptian, I love my country and I am proud of my nationality and my country. My father was a police officer and at the same time he was an equestrian during the royal era and participated in the Olympic Games for which King Farouk honored him more than once. He instilled in us a love for the practice of sport while my physician mother directed us towards a healthy lifestyle.  I have two sisters, and I turned 79 in early January of this year. I had a happy childhood with my tight-knit family.” This is how the Egyptian international swimmer Nagwa Ghorab began her recollections with Majalla.


Egyptian swimmer Nagwa Ghorab, 76, shows her medals after her training session in Cairo, Egypt, January 27, 2019. (Reuters).


Her father Youssef Ghorab was an Olympic champion in equestrian sports. He wanted his daughters to become athletes with high fitness levels and compete in various championships at a time when girls’ education in itself was a praiseworthy achievement. Her father insisted that his daughters learn how to swim at the public sports facility next to the Egyptian Opera House. Among her sisters, four-year-old Nagwa was the only one who fell in love with this sport.

"We started swimming in a club adjacent to the Egyptian Opera which was very far from our home. But my father's desire and insistence that his daughters learn and practice sports prompted us to travel this long distance almost daily to learn to swim despite the difficulty of transportation in the late forties and early fifties of the last century," Ghorab told Majalla.

"Alone among my sisters, my talent for swimming emerged and the coaches said that I swam in a unique way.  I achieved the Republic Singles Championship when I was seven years old. I continued to win titles in the Republic Championship until the age of sixteen, especially in the backstroke, (for which I got third place in the world), as well as the front crawl and butterfly. But I gave up butterfly stroke when I got older,” she added.

Nagwa quickly proved her superiority and won the title of Champion of the Republic at the age of 18, but at that time women were not allowed to represent Egypt in international tournaments. Accordingly, university studies and her love of art replaced swimming, and she completed her university studies at the Leonardo da Vinci School of Painting after which she headed to the Faculty of Arts, Department of French Language, to graduate and become a teacher at the Peace School.

Ghorab reached retirement age in 2010 and she dreamed of swimming once again. She joined the pioneers’ team at Heliopolis Club, and with that team, she participated in many international competitions and competed against the top swimmers in the world. In the same year, she won two silver medals in the world championships in Canada for the over-60s. In the national swimming championships in the USA, she took the silver for the 50 meters and finished fifth in the 100 meters in the 70-74 age group.

“I have a great conviction that there is nothing impossible in life. Inside me, I am a hero, so I challenged everything and had determination, and carried out the instructions of my coach, so I participated in a world championship at the age of 76,” Nagwa said.


Photo courtesy of Nagwa Ghorab.


As for her beginnings in swimming after the age of sixty: “I participated in the world championships when I was 14 at a time when no Egyptian swimmers were going out to participate in foreign tournaments. Among the competitors at the men's level was the legendary Abdellatief Abouheif, and I absolutely mean “legendary.” This man did the impossible, both on an athletic level, in terms of fitness and ability to compete in world championships, and on a moral level. I was looking at him in the same way as the Egyptian and Arab fans now look at Mohamed Salah, the Liverpool star. I was well aware of his value to the sport and I followed his swimming technique.  My biggest motivation in participating in international championships was to raise high the Egyptian flag and to have international newspapers write about an Egyptian woman who achieved great feats in swimming competitions.”

Regarding the funding of sports bodies and institutions for her in international competitions: “My generation was not a wealthy generation on a financial level, and I always believed that wealth is not financial, but that wealth is sporting, cultural, artistic and educational. This is how a person will be a good human being if he/she possesses this wealth. I love sports and it is the secret of my happiness in life so far— not money— money goes but sports wealth continues," she explained.

“I am a professional sportswoman, but, since I depend on my own financial resources, I consider myself an amateur. I never allow underestimating the Egyptian champions and comparing them with the European champions. I am proud to represent the name of Egypt and achieve titles and medals in its name,” Ghorab continued.


Egyptian swimmer Nagwa Ghorab, 76, swims underwater during her training session in Cairo, Egypt, January 27, 2019. (Reuters).


As for her family's support, she said: “My daughter is a doctor and always supports me, but she is afraid of injuries after I approach eighty years of age.  I always receive support from her, the rest of my children, and my grandchildren. Everyone is happy with what I have accomplished and is proud of my determination, not only my family but everyone who knows my sports career.”

Accomplishing impressive feats locally and internationally, Nagwa Ghorab competed in six world championships for seniors – and won eleven international medals. She participated in the 2016 Nationwide U.S. Masters Swimming Championship for seniors aged 70-74 years old in North Carolina, and won second place in the 50 meters backstroke, and not only that, but also achieved fifth place in the 100 meters backstroke, and sixth place in the 500 meters front crawl.

“I won five medals in five World Championships. In 2015 at age 72 I won the gold medal in Russia as well as two bronze medals. 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 meters backstroke 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,” she declared.

When asked about how she spends a typical day of her life, she said: “I get up at five in the morning to prepare for the morning training, which lasts for two hours a day, followed by breakfast, and then practicing some meditation and relaxation exercises under the sun. I read some texts of French literature and listen to classical music. I also make time for my family, which consists of my three daughters and four grandchildren.”


Photo courtesy of Nagwa Ghorab.


As for her diet; “I do not eat all kinds of sugars, I maintain my weight and health, and I love salads. My food is regulated with few starches and fats. Music and sports are more important to me than food.”

Ghorab is preparing for the international tournament that will be held next August in South Korea, with an eye toward achieving an advanced score to add to the balance sheet of her successes: “I hope to participate in the National Senior Games Association (NSGA) (or "Senior Olympics") this year, and I hope to compete against a Japanese contestant.  I am very ambitious to achieve a top position.”

Being a role model to everyone, but especially to women over fifty –who just got their inspirational dose for today– Nagwa Ghorab sends a message to all women: “Don’t let negative comments about what you should and shouldn’t do after fifty get to you. Stay strong and pursue your dreams!”

Her prescription for success that she would like to convey to young people is: "You must have will and perseverance, and not believe that age will prevent you from achieving your dreams and ambitions. The most important thing is to organize your time and strike a balance between all requirements while being close to positive people who provide you with psychological support and encouragement. You should pay a lot of attention to sports and proper nutrition, and also should embrace culture, listen to music and do some other positive things, and preserve the blessings of God. These are always my tips for my grandchildren and for all young people.”


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