Ali Najem: The Making of a World Champion

11th December 2018

2018 ILS World Championships


6am the alarm goes off and the reality of the ordeal hits me all at once. The thoughts that had been running through my mind as race day has approached were like a roller coaster and like every other human we create our own doubts. “Am I good enough?” “Can I finally do it this year at my 4th attempt?” “Did I eat enough?” “Did I sleep enough?” But with the lows, as well the highs, it all came down to a simple one: “No one knows this race better than me! How good will it be when you are crowned the new World Champion?”

I get up and go about my morning as usual. Straight into the shower to wake up the body and shock the system and then start sipping my water filled with Hydralyte, while the nerves are eating away inside me. I couldn’t eat so I just put in my headphones and played some chilled out music by XXXtentacion, my choice of tunes lately this year compared to my usual Biggie Smalls, and kept the positive thoughts running through my mind. We’ve done the same walk to the race every morning to watch the rest of the team but this morning the walk was a lot faster. There was no talk between myself, Jesse and Lachie. You can tell we were all nervous as well pumped to go out there and get this run done. We’ve put in everything, not only to our training but our personal life, to make sure we haven’t left any stones unturned to give ourselves the best opportunity to be champions.

Finally we arrive at the ‘Hub’ where we meet the rest of the crew and the first person I see is the infamous Don Hammond who has been the father figure of the group, easing the pressure of Jock a bit as the team manager this year, which has been amazing. Don helped me with his wise words before state titles and at nationals this year and both times I came home with the gold so you could say I found him as a good luck charm, but we won’t tell him that! Nothing relaxes me more than talking to Jock before races and getting the reassurances to all my doubts. We kept it short and sweet beforehand this time, he asked me if I had my plan in my head which was simple, go out hard break their spirits and then pick it up again at 1km, then the last 500m break them and if it came down to a sprint finish to go from the last 250m turn. We both nodded then smiled and I saw that grin on Jock, which meant, “you’ve got this, go get them”. We got down the beach and the warm up began. I had my running family with me who have been there for me this year day and night, every session through all the laughter and the pain. It consisted of Kai, Zak, Jesse, Lachie, Mel, Chloe, Caitlin and Georgia and all the rest who were with us in spirit back at home. In the mean time I knew that I shouldn’t care who was going to come to race or not but I couldn’t help myself and kept checking. Funny enough I soon figured everyone was watching the Wanda Crew warm up and if anything they were nervous that we were there and that gave a boost of confidence.

The women took off and it was inspiring watching Melissa who is like a mother to me defend her title after being twice all the girls age in the race. What was even better was watching Chloe come home and medal after seeing her not happy with her run in youths, even though in my eyes she ran with her heart on her sleeve and gave it her best. It motivated me to keep the momentum and most of all to not let the team down after all of us being on such a high.

The men were called up on the line. I stood in between Jesse and Lachie who are like my body guards to ensure what happened to me in the 2013 National Titles, where I got elbowed and punched out of the start, didn’t happen again. The gun goes off, and it’s crazy how fast the nerves disappear and confidence kicks in. I went out as fast as ever took the lead and ensured I dictated the pace. 250m down, the first turn out of the way and I see the long train of 20 men in my footprints and remained calm. I approached the 500m turn, where the crowd is, and once I turned there I put down a little surge where I broke away and put 5 meters on the pack and then instincts kicked in. To many, 5 meters is nothing, but over 2km, you have to capitalize, so by the time I got to the 750 meter turn I had 10 meters. I put another surge, closely watching the South African trying to get in my foot prints with the Canadian moving up and making meters on him to close in for 3rd but best thing to see was my team mate Lachie sitting not far behind them and in attacking range. I passed Jock at 900 meters and he said it exactly how it is, “you’ve got this, it’s yours if you want to take it”. I giggled in my head and thought, “If I want this? “Really Jock? ha-ha.”

1km to go and I just kept putting distance and was gaining more and more speed and confidence with every step. I hit the 1750 meters and it slowly hit me, We did it... in 40 seconds I’m going to be the new world champion, WTF!!! I saw Mel coming and gave her the famous high 5, as we all have seen in the photo, and pointed to my best mate and coach Jock, and told him that was for him. And it was. His happiness is my happiness. It was my thank you for saving my life. For taking me under his wing and believing in me. It was my way of showing him that his work never goes un-noticed better yet his work was no joke. We worked so bloody hard. Only Jock Campbell knows what I’ve been through on and off the racing track. Through every dark time he was the only person I was able to go to without him judging. He listened, understood and helped me overcome all life’s obstacles. I tried to keep it together when I saw Don, but couldn’t, I gave him a massive hug and the floodgates opened. It was over whelming. After coming to this race 3 times previously over the last 6 years, and only being good enough for silver then to come at my 4th attempt and win it in Adelaide where I raced my first ever Worlds back in 2012, no feeling can ever compare.

I say it over and over again but I’m forever thankful to everyone in my life that’s helped me achieve all this. Past and present I’m humbled to have such quality people in my life. My Coach Jock Campbell, you are my hero and will always be my role model. Don Hammond, you are a gentleman and one of the best blokes but even better fathers I know. The whole training squad from the Nippers to the Masters, each and every one of you has motivated me and inspired me in a way to become the role model I am today and the athlete I need to be to succeed. My Sponsors, Jock Athletic, Crust Pizza Cronulla, So Fresh Cronulla Beach, Spot On, Runnulla, Adidas Eyewear, Skins, Hydralyte, T-Bone Media, Fit and Flow Physiotherapy, WhatsRightAi and NuYouNuBody. My boss and work mate Dee McCarthy you have helped me find a stable job and helped me live a settled personal life and have had my back since day dot and know that I appreciate you so much. Wanda Surf Club for accepting me, respecting me, supporting me and never letting me slip out of line. I will forever be a part of Wanda and can’t wait to put the cap on again and win a couple more titles in the future. Last but not least my family, my mother, you raised 4 kids on your own with the support of your own back and my big brother. You went against all odds, you are my queen, and I love you unconditionally. My brother Helal, who till this day is my heart and soul I wouldn’t be here without you. My sisters, Hanin and Nour, who are my princess and everyone knows that. My sister-in-law Nora who’s been there not only for me, but my whole family, we love you. And my two nephews, Akram and Abbas, who will grow up and see this. They bring so much joy and purpose to my life I can’t live without them. For now my Surf Life Saving Chapter is over but my record will stand. I’m so proud to achieve all this but marathons are calling. But don’t celebrate, I’ll be back.

  • 5 x Sydney Branch GOLD
  • 2 x Under 19 NSW Champs GOLD
  • 2 x Open NSW Champs SILVERS
  • 3 x Open NSW Champs GOLD
  • 1 x Under 19 NATIONAL Champs SILVER
  • 1 x Under 19 NATIONAL Champs GOLD
  • 1 x Open NATIONAL Champs BRONZE
  • 2 x Open NATIONAL Champs SILVER
  • 2 x Open NATIONAL Champs GOLD
  • 1 x Under 18’s WORLD Champs SILVER
  • 2 x Open WORLD Champs SILVER

Yours Sincerely, the NEW 2018 2km Beach Run World Champion - Ali Najem