Abu Dhabi: Harun Rashied grew up in the northern Indian hill station of Nainital. In the town bordering the Himalayas, sports is a big deal and Rashied himself passionately played cricket, football and basketball in his youth.
It was no surprise, therefore, when he pursued a degree in Physical Education, despite already having a Master’s degree in Commerce. And when the COVID-19 pandemic brought all school sporting activities to a grinding halt, Rashied, 40, now the head of Physical Education (PE) at Islamiya English School in Abu Dhabi, was determined to continue promoting fitness.
“Students look forward to the sports competitions we organise, and although they are not graded on their PE lessons, they strive to keep fit so they can go on to win the competitions. When these competitions were suspended, I knew I had to find a way to keep the children motivated, especially as they needed an outlet while navigating their way through a pandemic,” Rashied told Gulf News. So he went about passionately organising what was possibly the UAE’s first online push-up contest. Meant for boys aged under 18 years, the qualifying round called upon participants to submit a 45-second video of themselves completing 40 push-ups in the correct form.
Rashied’s endeavour saw enthusiastic responses from across the country. A total of 30 students from 12 schools across the UAE submitted their entries via WhatsApp and email.
“This was very encouraging for me. I believe we have a role as educators to promote the UAE leaders’ push for healthy living. I am also of the opinion that no individual — whether a doctor, an engineer, a designer or whoever — can succeed in their profession if they are not physically fit. So organising these virtual push-up sessions was my way of promoting fitness during the pandemic,” Rashied explained.
For the final showdown, Rashied tasked the top 10 participants with sending in a video of themselves getting in as many push-ups as possible, in correct form, within one minute. He then announced the winners on the UAE’s 49th National Day.
Muhammad Mujeeb Rehman, a 12th grader from Pakistan at the Islamiya English School, emerged the winner with 76 push-ups in a minute. The second position was clinched by Pranav Chandar of Global Indian School, Ajman, who was just one push-up short of Rehman. Third place was a tie between two students who both managed 68 push-ups in a minute: Edwin Francis of GEMS Our Own Indian School, Dubai, and Pierre Magid of Merryland International School. Rehman received Dh1,000 as winner of the first prize, while Chandar received Dh750 for the second place. The third place winners each received Dh500.
“Push-ups are a really good exercise and they also require no equipment. But this was a truly tough contest. Looking back, I can say that it helped me find out my own strength and motivated me to get even fitter,” Rehman said. Chandar, an 11th grader from India, said he owed his success to his mum’s freshly-cooked vegetarian food and his workout routine.
For his part, Rashied says he now has more contests in mind for UAE’s schoolchildren. “I want to reach out to children of all ages, so the next inter-school contest will target students in Grades 4,5 and 6 to perform jumping jacks. It will also be open to girls,” Rashied said. Within the school itself, he also has a football freestyle competition in mind for children under 16 years.
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“Since the push-ups contest, I have been flooded with requests from students to organise the next competition. This is indeed very encouraging. I hope the opportunities will push students to stay healthy and drive home the importance of physical fitness,” he said.
Rashied credits his older brother for his own enduring passion for sports. “I always watched my brother, Tanveer, excel in sports, and he then went on to coach others. He has twice been honoured as the best basketball coach in the state of Uttarakhand. For my part, I try to instil the same passion in others as he did in me,” he said.