A French expat and a cancer survivor, Christine will this month embark on the UAE’s 125km Women’s Heritage Walk for her second year in a row, spending a week camping as she treks across the desert from Al Ain to Abu Dhabi, retracing the steps of generations of Emirati women.
What made you decide to first sign up for the walk last year?
I had read articles about the recreation of this historic walk and attended a lecture by the founder, Jody Ballard. I wanted to better understand the culture and traditions of the UAE, and thought it sounded like a great adventure. My friend Tina had already participated in 2015 so she also encouraged me to sign up.
What has motivated you to return for a second year?
I loved doing the Women’s Heritage Walk last year, but we had to shorten it to only three days of trekking instead of five due to bad weather. Our group of ‘sand sisters’ tried to complete the final 35km together in Abu Dhabi city instead, but it still felt unfinished to me so I wanted to try again. I also had further surgeries in the summer of 2017 and lost a few friends, so I want to walk in their memory this year.
Having recovered from serious illness, how did you set about training for such a physical event?
When I enrolled last year, my state of health had meant that I participated in little or no physical activity over the last decade. I had undergone more than 15 surgeries, so I was completely rusty and had to be very focused when training. I started by walking every day and slowly increasing the distance. I then started doing pool laps four times a week and participating in the various activities offered by the Women’s Heritage Walk’s training teams like yoga, boot camps and beach walks. It improved my physical health tremendously and motivated me to never give up when it became hard. I lost many friends that I met during my illness, while I was still lucky to be alive. My participation in the Women’s Heritage Walk was dedicated to their memories, and that also kept pushing me forward.
Why this challenge and at that time?
I had been declared in remission and wanted to celebrate. My brothers wanted to gift me a trip that would make me happy, and this walk combining culture and a physical challenge was perfect.
How has the experience of training been different this year to last?
This year I have had to spend much of my time in France attending to family matters, so I am missing much of the desert training. I still walk every day in France – I’ve reached 16.5km a day – and do 90 minutes on my exercise bike every evening.
How is the camaraderie between the women on the walk?
There is a positive energy and spirit, and we are very encouraging of each other. It is always a joy and truly enriching to be able to share this experience with those from different countries and cultures.
What is your favourite memory of last year’s walk?
I loved admiring the beautiful sunrises in the dunes. I also vividly remember laughing over great meals and sharing stories around the camp fire. The most challenging aspect was that I was worried about not being able to shower. But in the end, that didn’t matter in the slightest.
What is one message you hope the public will hear as a result of this event?
Anything that does not kill you makes you stronger. Do not hesitate to go beyond your comfort zone and push yourself.