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Lebanese challenges obesity insults by swimming 5.5 miles

Yahya Nabil Kabbara has always been perceived as academically distinguished, but not athletically, due to being subjected to nightmarish waves of bullying over his obesity since childhood.

A Lebanese math teacher, Kabbara chose his own method to fight bullying by swimming 5.5 km to a rocky island off Lebanon’s coast to prove that “being overweight doesn’t impede oneself from notching achievements.”

Since a teenager, friends and classmates never allowed Kabbara to play any sport with them because they said his “obesity makes them lose.”

“That left a scar in me and pushed me to set that personal challenge to swim to the furthest island off Tripoli’s seashore,” Kabbara told Arab News.

Born in the northern Lebanese city in 1987, the 34-year-old tutor currently teaches math for secondary classes at a public high school.

Commonly known as “Araneb Island” or “Rabbit’s Island,” his target is the biggest of three flat rocky islands that constitute the Palm Islands Nature Reserve. The three islands’ area is around 4.2 sq km.

On Sunday, Sept. 19, Kabbara put on a pair of paddles, jumped into the ocean and swam for nearly four-and-a-half hours until he reached Rabbit’s Island.

Having once weighed over 140kg, Kabbara has been training seriously by swimming, walking, hiking, mountain climbing and preparing himself mentally and physically to be able to fulfill what he describes as a “personal challenge and a message to all those who bullied him for being overweight.”

He added: “Classmates and friends never allowed me to play any sport with them because, according to them, my obesity always made them lose. That hurt me a lot … it left an aching scar in me that I always stayed alone. My family once thought I had autism,” he said.

Coming from a hardworking family, Kabbara started teaching at the age of 14 because he adores the profession and needed to earn pocket money to support his father.

Despite having two doctorates, he could not land a university job because, according to him, “you need a wasta (support from a politician or influential person), meanwhile I’ve never been affiliated to or supported any Lebanese politician.”

In 2015, Kabbara obtained a Ph.D. in applied Mathematics at the Lebanese University while also picking up a doctorate from Paris-Est Creteil University in France.  

The father of a nine-month-old daughter said the fact that he was constantly bullied at youth pushed him to work “seriously and really hard” on his fitness to prove to others that being overweight “should not cripple oneself from fulfilling their goals.”

“At a certain point of my life I realized that I have fulfilled a lot academically and that the time has come for me to accomplish something physical,” he said, reiterating that he set up his swimming challenge “to prove to himself and others that with perseverance any goal is attainable.”

Kabbara explained that the idea to swim to Rabbit’s Island was like a dream to him since childhood.

When the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) surfaced in early 2020, the 34-year-old had still been suffering from obesity and feared that lockdowns would force him to gain more weight and feel “desolate and depressed.”

“But I told myself ‘no.’ I walked as much as possible and swam a lot after borrowing my cousin’s paddles. I love swimming so I swam 300 meters, then 500. In November I swam to the nearest island, Al-Ballan. It took me an hour. Then I went to the second island of Al-Rmayleh,” said Kabbara.

“All I wanted to do is accomplish my goal and prove to myself and others that everything is possible,” concluded Kabbara, who said that he had dropped his weight to 109kg.

Source: Arab News

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