For most of us age-group triathletes, it’s pretty special whenever we get some sort of recognition for all of the training hours and work we put in to our sport. Usually that recognition comes in the form of a finisher’s medal—or on a good day, a spot on the podium. Imagine my surprise, then, when I found out that I had won a trip to Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates and an entry into TriYAS by Activelife, the Events DC Nation’s Triathlon’s sister race, for winning the Etihad Airways Triathlon Club Challenge last September. I even got to bring a companion along as part of the award. Naturally, a lot of my teammates from The Bike Rack Multisport team wanted to come along, as did a few of my other friends who race. In the end, I ended up bringing my mom. She loved the idea of exploring that area of the world, and hey—moms always win. The fall and winter flew by as I kept the training going on the trainer and on bundled up runs through DC.
Before I knew it, it was time to head to Washington Dulles airport for a direct flight to Abu Dhabi on Etihad Airways. Etihad, the flag carrier airline of the United Arab Emirates, has consistently won awards as the ‘World’s Leading Airline.’ Once you travel with them, you’ll understand why. First, Etihad took great care of my bike—which is a point I’m sure many other athletes can relate with. After arriving to the terminal, we were treated to an experience in the Etihad lounge. The Etihad staff were the best—treating us and the Nation’s Tri and Triathlete Magazine crew like royalty as we waited to board the plane. The lounge was among the most comfortable of any I’ve been to around the world and featured a full range of drinks and some delicious Middle Eastern and Mediterranean food to snack on. Etihad allows you to board directly from the Dulles lounge, which is an added detail that makes travel with them so ideal. The flight itself was equally great. The service and attention to detail were second to none. As a frequent business traveler, Etihad’s E-BOX entertainment selection was a person favorite with a surprising number of new movie releases and other excellent entertainment choices to help pass the time.
Before I knew it, we had arrived to Abu Dhabi International Airport. We used Etihad’s car service to reach our accommodations at the Yas Viceroy Abu Dhabi on Yas Island, making the door-to-door experience simple and comfortable. Just like Etihad, Yas Viceroy staff made us feel right at home. The hotel itself is beautiful, both with its uniquely illuminated exterior and its comfortable and luxurious interior. Yas Island is a destination within Abu Dhabi that I highly recommend. There is the Formula 1 racetrack in Yas Marina Circuit which hosts the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix each year, the Yas Marina, the Yas Beach, the highly acclaimed Yas Waterworld, Ferrari World, and much more. Throughout the trip, the Yas Marina Circuit crew were gracious hosts and really made our experience unforgettable.
We started our first full day in Abu Dhabi having breakfast with Egypt’s first professional triathlete and Olympic hopeful, Omar Nour, who spends much of his time over in the UAE during the winter months and is gearing up for contention in the 2016 Olympics. Omar is one of the most inspirational athletes I’ve ever met, and he was an awesome host to have throughout our trip. His mission is simple: getting people from ‘fat to fit.’ His energy and infectious dedication to both the sport of triathlon and his commitment and passion in raising awareness on making healthy choices and engaging in physical activity has had a ripple effect on people of all ages (myself included)! Later that day, we spent a little time at the pool in the sun (which was great after the winter we’ve had in DC) and then went and checked out the swim in the Yas Marina with Omar, the Yas Marina Circuit guys, and rest of the crew. The day ended with a traditional pre-race pasta dinner, al fresco in the Yas Viceroy’s Palm Garden.
The race itself, TriYAS by Activelife, is an experience that any triathlete should have. It begins late in the afternoon; so by the time most athletes are on the run, the sun is low in the sky and the heat is fading. The swim in the marina is well-marked and easy to sight. The water is cool and wetsuit legal, plus the salt water provides extra buoyancy. Transition is really cool: it is the pit area on a formula one race track. And the ride is even cooler: the race track itself. The ride is a closed course whirlwind of eight fast laps through the twists and turns of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix course. The run then winds around the race track and marina for a picturesque evening finish. The race day village was also great – with live entertainment, a fun setup by Etihad, and even an Events DC Nations Triathlon tent. I needed a few adjustments made to my bike, and the mechanics on-site were great.
We finished off our trip in Abu Dhabi with some tourist time. Omar graciously took us on a tour of one of the most stunning sights I’ve ever seen—the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. Words couldn’t do the mosque justice, but to give you some sense of scale: it can fit 40,000 worshippers and has a marble mosaic courtyard that is 180,000 square feet. Later that day, we went on what I’d describe as a desert safari. It included some rollercoaster-like 4×4 driving through sand dunes (they call it “dune bashing”), some close encounters with a bunch of friendly camels, and a traditional dinner and entertainment under the open night sky in the desert.
I can’t reiterate enough that TriYAS by Activelife in Abu Dhabi is a great destination for any triathlete. If you’re living in a colder part of the United States like me, you’ll get an unforgettable sunny vacation and early season race rolled into one. Etihad Airways and the Yas Marina Circuit were wonderful hosts and truly provided an unforgettable experience. I look forward to getting back there again, and to another flying experience on Etihad in the future!