INTERVIEW: The two Omars form first all-Egyptian team to cross the Atlantic

Ingy Deif, Thursday 15 Jun 2017

Ahram Online talks with Omar Samra as he gears up with triathlete Omar Nour to row nearly 5,000 nautical km across the Atlantic unsupported

Samra and Nour

Come 12 December,  Egypt will see its first team venture forth on one of the world's toughest adventures, as Egyptian duo Omar Samra and Omar Nour team up to row nearly 5,000 nautical kilometres from the Canary Islands to Antigua as part of the Atlantic Challenge race.

Omar Samra is an Egyptian banker-turned adventurer, who made history when in May 2007 he became the first Egyptian and the youngest Arab (then 29 years old) to climb Mount Everest.

Since then, Samra has taken many adventures in stride, breaking another record by becoming the first Egyptian to complete the seven summits challenge -- a climb of the highest mountains of seven continents -- and the first Egyptian to gear up for travelling to the moon.

Samra talks with Ahram Online about his upcoming adventure and his team mate Omar Nour who became the first Egyptian triathlete in history, representing Egypt in the Olympic triathlon circuit.

Ahram Online (AO): Crossing the Atlantic Ocean rowing; what inspired the idea?

Omar Samra (OS): I am always drawn to adventures that are human-powered and that are dependent on the elements of nature, and working with nature.

Crossing the Atlantic has been on my mind for some three or four years, but it had always seemed outside my limits and capabilities.

Three years ago, I was returning from the US and looking out of the airplane window at this massive endless expanse of water, and wondering how amazing it would be... It has haunted me since then.

AO: You've always been a solo adventurer, what changed?

OS: No not at all; in my previous adventures I have always been part of a team. Maybe because I was the only Egyptian on those teams, my name was always mentioned on its own.

When I started to think about the ocean crossing I knew that although some people make it on their own, I would have to have someone with me. Although it would be ideal to have a four-man team, it was not easy to find committed people with whom I could spend two to three months alone in the middle of the ocean. The more people you add, the more unknowns you add, so I decided it was going to be just one other person.

The experience is very mentally challenging; a person has to be extremely strong and stable. I once saw a documentary about a British two-time Olympic medalist who went through the experience and was very shaken despite his physical capabilities.

I met Omar Nour in 2013. We got along on the spot, but at that time he was training to represent Egypt as a professional triathlete in the Olympics, so basically there was no room for other projects.

Then, Nour sustained an injury that prevented him from participating in the Olympics, so we agreed to work on this venture. This was in Dubai last summer, and we emailed the organisers and took off planning within an hour, which was very quick and subtle.

AO: Tell us more about the other Omar in the picture?

OS: Nour is very committed and capable physically, but the point is that we really get along psychologically and this is very important on such a journey.

Nour and I complement each other. I get inspired and recharged when I am on my own, and he is the complete opposite -- an extrovert, brimming with energy. So I calm and ground him and he brings energy and vibe into the scene.

Nour is very much into details, and I kind of concentrate on the mega picture. Both of us are business men, so we brought our economic expertise into this together. I think we make a great team.

AO: But both of you have no prior experience in rowing?

OS: What encouraged me too was that people I know and met on previous expeditions accomplished the challenge, so that brought the idea closer.

You can train on rowing and other aspects, but you cannot force yourself to get along with someone you don’t click with and spend months alone in the middle of nowhere.The psychological factor is always a priority.

AO: How are you getting prepared?

OS: Now we are not 100% ready, but we will be by the time the race is due. We;re focusing on the economic aspects now, bringing on sponsors and buying the boat.

Unfortunately the bureaucracy is very complicated here in Egypt, so once we buy the boat we will ship it to Dubai and and train there.

AO: Was it Easy to get sponsors?

OS: No, but we have something unique and a very good track record. The value we will generate for sponsors will outweigh the costs.

AO: Where is the thin line that separates pushing the limits and conquering the fear that you always advocate, and indulging in an uncalculated-risk experience?

OS: It is a calculated risk.  We are training tremendously on all aspects that we can control and master.

A lot of physical preparation is taking place; especially since rowing in the ocean is so different from regular rowing in still water. It's abut power and muscle endurance.

We are also training in how to master navigation techniques, taking first aid courses, learning how to fix whatever goes wrong in the boat. We're also learning key skills like sleep coordination, as we will alternate in two-hour intervals of rowing throughout the trip.

In any adventure there is always a calculated share of risk that can be managed, and a smaller portion that cannot be, and this is something that every adventurer has to consider. 

AO: So you are not intimidated by the upcoming experience?

OS: Of course there is fear, but its presence is never a determining factor of whether I do something or not. Bravery is not having zero fear, but rather continuing with it to achieve goals.

Ocean crossing has been done before, so it's doable. We train our best, we are capable mentally, and we will give it our best shot.

I always say that even as a father, I would rather give my daughter a legacy of fulfilling dreams and potential, always pushing the limits, rather than living a sheltered life governed by fear and limited to comfort zones.

I was wired to be like that, to feel complete I have to pursue what I believe in, like people pursue their passions in other fields that could also consume them a bit away from their children. But I believe that fulfilling myself will make me the parent I want to be.

I might be away for two months, but in the grand scheme of things my daughter will have a great story to tell and wider experience to learn from.

AO: What about food and water and security measures?

OS: The race begins in December each year because it's the best time for sailing in this ocean. Nevertheless within an hour of the starting point, each boat is totally on its own.

The boat will be accommodated with solar panels that help transform seawater to into drinkable water. As for food, we will take enough to last us almost three months. We can communicate to ask for help in case of distress, but the nearest assistance may only be able to reach us 12 to 36 hours after we initiate the call.

AO: What achievements and records are you reaching for?

OS: We look forward to completing this race, and if we do we will be the first Arab team to do that. That is our main goal.

The fastest duo team made it in 40 days and five hours, the slowest in 109 days, so we look forward to something in between.

AO: What are your worst fears?

OS: Storms are a big challenge, as well as the treat of serious injuries. I have weak a spot in the upper shoulder from years of carrying heavy loads while climbing which might result in some mobility issues, and Nour suffers from some back problems, which he recovered from, so the challenge is to not aggravate those problems.

Most people live their lives exploring only a very narrow band of their true potential, but in order to live joyfully and really live life you have to open yourself to experiencing some challenges and see what you are really capable of.



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