This weekend, a Department of Commerce attorney will attempt to do something very difficult: run an Ironman-length race indoors.
Mais Abousy will jump in the pool at the St. James sports complex at 7 AM on Saturday. Then the 39-year-old Arlingtonian will swim 2.4 miles (a.k.a. 80 laps), ride her stationary bike for 112 miles, and run 26.2 miles (a.k.a. a marathon) on the treadmill. She’s anticipating the entire thing will take about 14 hours.
It’s all part of training for her longterm goal: completing an Ironman-length race in Iraq in 2022. Abousy is originally from Baghdad. In 1991, she took one of the last planes out during the first Gulf War and the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.
Her family landed in America, and eventually moved to the DC area. Every race Abousy has completed has benefitted the Iraqi Children Foundation, which helps protect Iraqi kids from being abused or exploited by extremists and traffickers. “As an Iraqi, I got my golden ticket,” says Abousy. “I was privy to a very aristocratic lifestyle in Baghdad. I was living in a bubble, and I didn’t even know what the rest of the country was going through.”
She sees competing as an opportunity to give back to her home country: “I lived the American dream, but a lot of people did not get their golden ticket,” she says. “That could have been me. Those kids could have been any of us.”
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Throughout her race, she’ll be joined by three fellow Iraqi-Americans for portions of each activity: Nizar Hussein will swim alongside her, Haidar Al-Kindi will bike, and Zeena Rahman will run.
While this race won’t be an official Ironman-branded event, Abousy ran an actual Ironman last year in Austria, and has run three half-Ironman-length races (one of which she completed indoors at the St. James in September). She’s also run triathlons, as well as the New York and Chicago marathons.
She wasn’t always an athlete, though. While she went for casual two- or three-mile runs while in law school at American University, she began seriously running during the 2013 government shutdown, when she couldn’t work. “I drove my husband crazy after painting the whole house and moving everything around,” says Abousy. “He said just go out and run.”
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So she did. That day, she ran 10 miles, and hasn’t stopped since. She decided to sign up for her first half-Ironman a few years ago, while in the Baghdad airport after a work trip. ISIS members were about 30 miles outside the airport, she says, and she remembers feeling like she had to take on a bigger challenge to raise awareness for the Iraqi Children Foundation. “When you’re in the midst of hearing gun shots and you’re very, very far away from home and your family and your kids in the US, it gets to you,” she says, “and that’s when I clicked ‘register.'”
While her race this Saturday will raise awareness for the foundation, Abousy also hopes it inspires folks feeling downtrodden during the pandemic and election anxiety. “The whole theme of the race is ‘suffer, learn, and change.’ If you have suffered, you need to learn so that you can change and adapt,” she says. “This is very true of not just Covid, but for Iraq and its people.“
If you want to cheer on Abousy from afar, the St. James will livestream the entire race.