With the Rio Olympics taking place from 5th to 21st August fast approaching, Libya Herald had an opportunity to meet up with Daniah Hagul, Libya’s only female swimmer competing internationally. In the company of her father, on a hot sunny day at the National Swimming Pool in Msida, Malta, we were able to watch the 17-year old during one of her daily two-hour practice sessions.
Libya Herald: We last spoke to you last year after you participated in the FINA World Swimming Championships 2015 in Kazan, Russia. Are you still the only competing Libyan female international swimmer?
Daniah: ‘‘As far as I know, I am the only Libyan female participating in international races. I hope peace will prevail in Libya so that other girls can take up competitive swimming and may also represent Libya at future international events’’.
LH: How have you progressed since then?
Daniah: ‘‘Since moving to Mount Kelly, a school in the UK with a dedicated swimming programme, and under the supervision and coaching of Robin Brew, who had himself represented Team GB at the 1994 LA Olympics, I have improved both my technique and endurance. Robin is a great coach and very inspirational and he has helped me a lot’’.
‘‘A typical day at Mount Kelly starts with a 2-hour swimming session followed by a whole day of lessons. In the afternoon, we sometimes have an hour of gym and then another swimming session in the evening. It’s quite an intensive programme! I also have to make time for studying for 4 ‘A’ levels, LAMDA exams (public speaking) and preparing for my Grade 7 flute exam’’.
LH: You are now 17. Do you still love swimming and is it still a dream? Do you find it more difficult to focus on swimming as a growing teenager?
Daniah: ‘‘I am passionate about swimming and have dedicated so much time and effort during the past 6 years to this great sport. Competitive swimming has taught me how to focus and keep pushing myself beyond my limits. Of course my dream of representing Libya at the Olympics remains alive and it is what kept me going during difficult times’’.
‘‘However, the occasional injury is inevitable with such intensive training. It happens to most athletes and can be a major set-back. Earlier this year, I had an ankle injury, which was really unfortunate. As frustrating as this was, after 2 months of physiotherapy and rest, I was back in the pool again. I managed to regain my strength and I’m now faster than I was before the injury’’.
‘‘Apart from swimming and studying, I watch movies and TV shows when I have the time. I’m also taking Photography ‘A’ level and have really enjoyed the creativity this has brought out in me. It has become a real hobby too, especially sports photography, adding a new dimension to my life’’.
‘‘Being away at boarding school has been a great experience. However, I do miss my family and friends and our wonderful Libyan food and hospitality too, so I make it a point of visiting whenever I have a holiday’’.
LH: What events and training camps have you attended or participated in since Kazan?
Daniah: ‘‘Internationally, I took part in the Qatar International Swimming Championships in December 2015, where I won 3 gold medals in the 3 events I competed in. It was a great experience and I enjoyed meeting other female swimmers from other Arab countries. I competed in several events in the UK and Switzerland too and I also participated in 2 swim camps in Lanzarote, Canary Islands’’.
LH: Are you still competing in both the 100m & 50m breaststrokes?
Daniah: ‘‘While I train in all 4 strokes, I mainly compete in the 50m and the 100m breaststroke. However, I’m now totally focused on the 100m breaststroke, as this is the event I will be taking part in at the Olympics on 7th August’’.
LH: Are you looking forward to going to Rio? What will it mean to you to represent Libya at Rio?
Daniah: ‘‘I am so excited for this once in a lifetime opportunity! I’ve been training so hard for the honour of representing Libya at this prestigious event. The road to Rio hasn’t been easy, but I have risen to the challenge and have put so much time and effort into my training for this great privilege’’.
LH: Who will be going with you?
Daniah: ‘‘My parents and my brother will be going with me to Rio. I’m really grateful for their support along the years and the support of all my other family members and friends in Libya and elsewhere’’.
LH: Are there any other Libyan male swimmers going to Rio? Who are they?
Daniah: ‘‘Ahmad Attellesey will also be representing Libya at Rio in freestyle. By participating at the World Swimming Championship in Kazan in 2015, Ahmad and I fulfilled one of the main requirements for the universality selection process, demanded by the Libyan Olympic Committee (LOC) and the International Olympic Committee (IOC)’’.
LH: Are you getting any financial support from the Libyan Olympic or Swimming federations?
Daniah: ‘‘The Libyan Swimming Federation (LSF) and the LOC have been supportive since June 2015. However, I think because of the economic and security problems in Libya, these funding sources have been very strained’’.
Daniah: ‘‘Part of the travel expenses and some pocket money have been covered by the LSF and LOC. However, most of my travel, training, camps, medical and other related expenses have been paid for by my parents. As expenses mounted and funding sources became strained, we recently started a crowdfunding campaign and sought sponsorships’’.
‘‘I appreciate the contributions of family and friends to my Facebook crowdfunding campaign. I’m also really grateful to the HB Group (Husni Bey) for sponsoring me. I want to thank everyone for their support and vote of confidence’’.
LH: Is there anything else you want to tell us!
Daniah: ‘‘Participating at Worlds in Kazan was a memorable experience and I will always treasure it, as it was the first major international competition I took part in. I enjoyed meeting famous swimmers and watching them train and compete. It was also great to see other girls from Arab and Muslim countries compete’’.
‘‘However, the most exciting and emotional scene was seeing Libyan athletes, officials and family members, near and far, come together to raise the Libyan flag at such an important event. I was also touched by the support on social media from Libyans and others who believe in promoting sports and competitions as a civilized and positive way of bringing people from different backgrounds together’’.
‘‘I am grateful for this journey of a lifetime and for the opportunity to represent Libya at the Rio Olympics. I am very much looking forward to meeting other Libyan athletes coming to the event. I can’t wait to meet other swimmers from all over the world and especially looking forward to seeing Michael Phelps in action and meeting Yusra Mardini, the Syrian swimmer, forming part of the Refugee Olympic Athletes Team. Her story, resilience and determination are such admirable and inspirational qualities’’.
‘‘Thank you for coming to watch me at my training session and thank you and the Libya Herald for taking an interest in my swimming’’.
‘‘I would like to take this opportunity to wish everyone Ramadan Kareem’’.
LH: Thank you Daniah and we wish you the best of luck at the Rio Olympics in August.
If you wish to help Daniah, the only female Libyan swimmer competing in international competitions, you may like to contribute to her crowd funding appeal to help her meet the cost of training, trainers, travel etc throughout the year. Please go to: