Advice From an Ironman
Dr. Nasser Saqr Al-Mohannadi
The Ironman race is the toughest test in the realm of sports. The participants have to go in for a 4-km swim, a 180-km bicycle ride, and a 42.2-km run which in itself equals an Olympic marathon. All of this has to be completed in nonstop succession within a time constraint of up to 17 hours! It is an enormous challenge that can be taken up only by a small number of athletes around the world.
In 2016, months after turning 40, Dr. Nasser Saqr Al-Mohannadi became the first Qatari to finish an Ironman race when he crossed the finish line of the Ironman African Championship, held in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. One year later, he made history again, being a member of Qatar’s first swimming team to cross the English Channel between England and France — one of the world’s toughest swimming challenges.
The track record of Dr. Al-Mohannadi goes well beyond sports. He is a professor at the Department of Petroleum Engineering, Texas A&M University at Qatar (TAMUQ). On secondment from Qatar Petroleum (QP), he is Deputy Head of Development and Planning at North Oil Company’s Al-Shaheen Oil Field.
The outstanding success of Dr. Al-Mohannadi was a result of many years of planning and hard work. In his biography “How to be an Ironman”, published in 2018 by Hamad Bin Khalifa University (HBKU) Press, he talks about his inspiring journey and the lessons he learned throughout his life.
Dr. Al-Mohannadi spoke to “Career Guide” about his career, achievements in the field of sports, and what can be learned from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Learning from Challenges Regarding the reason for selecting this challenging sport, Dr. Al-Mohannadi said, “I was 12 years old when I first watched this sport on TV. Back then, I loved sports. It was amazing to see people going through this unusual challenge, which many deem impossible. Ever since, I set my sights on becoming an Ironman. To do that, it took me some 28 years.”
Dr. Al-Mohannadi believes that each person’s character is shaped according to the magnitude of the challenges he or she faces. “I learned that dreams could come true,” he stated. “Nothing is impossible. The two major factors in achieving your life goals are 1) to have a clear plan for what you want — in other words, a task-centric road map to your goal — and 2) to implement it, and that is the most important part. You must have passion and commitment to your plan, or else your goals will remain mere dreams. Without a plan, you might be caught up in a vicious cycle or may reach a different goal from the one you had been pursuing.”
“It is important to set big goals for yourself and be willing to confront challenges, rather than avoiding them and taking the easy way out. Challenges will make a difference in your life and give you a sense of fulfillment and a strong personality.”
As the Vice-President of Qatar Cycling and Triathlon Federation, Dr. Al-Mohannadi is responsible for managing the sport of triathlon, an Olympic sport that can be considered a miniature version of the Ironman contest. He also founded QTRI team to encourage Qatari youth to engage in this sport.
“In triathlon, you depend on yourself,” said Dr. Al-Mohannadi. “It teaches you endurance, planning, and balancing your efforts to ultimately reach your goal: crossing the finish line. When you complete the three stages, you become more confident about your ability to achieve any other goal.”
Dr. Al-Mohannadi recommends to derive positive things out of, and learn from, the challenges faced in life – even the coronavirus pandemic. From his perspective, it should be looked at as an adversity that will sooner or later come to an end, or even as an eye-opener. “This crisis is like a breathing space amid
the hectic world we live in,” he commented. “It allowed us to spend more time with our families. It taught us the importance of commitment, patience, self-dependence, and flexible planning. Take this period as a chance to reevaluate all aspects of your life, and to invest your free time in learning new skills.”
‘La Manche’ Challenge
In 2017, Dr. Al-Mohannadi took up a challenge of another kind. He was part of the first team from Qatar to swim across the English Channel, a rare achievement in the history of Qatari swimming. Over a 50-km distance between England and France, the team managed to make a shore-to-shore 16-hour relay swim in extremely cold water and against powerful tidal currents in a waterway known for its heavy maritime traffic. Remarkably, the team consisted of amateur athletes who love sports and want to promote physical exercise in society and write their country’s name in the history of this famous challenge.
He describes this experience as a perfect example of teamwork: “It was impossible to make this historic achievement without full cooperation among the team members. The best swimmers were selected, managed according to their respective capabilities, and prepared well to carry out their tasks. Another prerequisite for success is that all the teammates have an equally genuine belief in their ability to make it together.”
Dr. Al-Mohannadi holds that practicing sports is an excellent way for school students to acquire social skills. He explained, “Certainly, students must focus more on their academic study than anything else, but they have to pay attention to their own social development as well. Participating in extracurricular activities at school is a perfect way to acquire essential social skills. In my case, playing football with my colleagues benefited me considerably in this respect. When you attend college and then start your career, such skills would help you a lot when dealing with other people.”
When he was a kid, Dr. Al-Mohannadi wished to become a pilot and travel the world, but he studied petroleum engineering, as advised by his family. Asked about the parental intervention in children’s career choices, he replied with a message to both students and parents: “Students should listen to and ponder on the advice of their family. On the other hand, parents should do their best before giving advice if they want it to work. First, they should be fully aware of the government’s economic strategies and future job market trends. They should keep in mind that future professions may be totally different as human lifestyles change — and COVID-19 is the best proof of this. Above all, they should know the potential of their children and how the suggested career tracks are suitable for them.”
The triathlon expert urges the youth never to give up and do whatever possible to realize their dreams. He has never let go of his dream of traveling the world, and has so far visited around 150 countries, discovering different cultures and getting more in touch with nature. He started to research the phenomenon of climate change in relation to his specialization. It has recently become his number one cause.
One last question may arise here: How could Dr. Al-Mohannadi balance work and personal life while making all these achievements? To this he answered: “Think of your life as a triangle. You have to take care of three sides and give each one of them an equal share of your time: work, social life, and physical health. Many people may be inattentive to the third side, and they pay a heavy price for that. Your physical health is so important.
Make exercising a fundamental part of your daily routine, and make sure to eat healthy food. This will give you the energy and positive thinking you need, and it will pay off in every aspect of your life.