Abu Dhabi: A female doctor based in the UAE, who took to boxing to beat COVID-19 stress, has gone on to win gold in a national level championship.
Meet Dr Noha Fathallah Mohammed Abdelghani from Egypt, 38, the winner of the UAE Muay Thai Championship held in Abu Dhabi last month.
The medical frontliner is a specialist in anaesthesia at Bareen International Hospital — MBZ City. She had also offered the service of an intensivist at the hospital’s ICU during the peak of the pandemic.
“As one of the frontliners working during the COVID-19 pandemic, I am energised whenever I am engaged in sports,” Dr Noha told Gulf News. “It gives me hope that soon, everything will be back to normal,” she said.
What is and why Muay Thai?
Not many are familiar with the martial art of Muay Thai, sometimes referred to as “Thai boxing”. Muay Thai is different from kickboxing because the combined use of fists, elbows, knees and shins are allowed, whereas you cannot use knees and elbows in kickboxing, explained Dr Noha. Also known as the “art of eight limbs”, this form of martial art had become a favourite sport with Dr Noha four years back itself.
“It is a very good tool to take out your stress and improve your fitness level. Some people also do it for weight loss,” said Dr Noha.
“In Muay Thai, when we compete, we respect fellow competitors and avoid hurting each other. This pushed me to discipline myself and build self-control.”
She said the sport makes her feel young. “You need to have very good fitness level to practise Muay Thai. You have to stand for a long time and work extra hours,” she explained.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has created challenging new norms for all of us, including medical frontliners. From a personal standpoint, sports provided me with a positive avenue to recover from the physical, mental and emotional pain of the pandemic,” she said.
During the peak of the pandemic, she experienced extreme stress levelsas she doubled up as an intensivist during the peak time.
“Of the three intensivists we had, one caught COVID-19. Since I had worked as an intensivist and anaesthetist in Egypt earlier, I could provide the service of an intensivist also,” she added.
Having tried different sports from the time she was in Saudi Arabia since 2012, Dr Noha said she was regularly lifting weights and swimming before she found her new love for Muay Thai.
“Even during the pandemic, I was using the small gym at home. It is commendable that the country has been encouraging sport because it is good for the immune system to fight any disease and live a healthy life. When restrictions relaxed, I got back to my regular practice sessions.”
She participated in another Muay Thai competition prior to the pandemic and won the second place. She attributed her top slot victory this time at the national championship to the rigorous practice regime that she had followed during the pandemic. “As part of the preparations, I trained twice a day and followed a strict diet plan.”
The fair battle
Dr Noha competed for the female advanced title in the 67kg category with two matches in each round. She defeated three competitors from different countries in the championship. This resulted in her winning a gold medal.
“I got injured in my foot in the first round itself. But I finished the match with the injury and I had to take two days’ sick leave after the event.”
In all three rounds, she said she was trying to control herself not to harm her opponents. “The goal is to score, not to harm [the opponent]. You need to have a lot of self-control for that. In boxing, fighters can go to the extreme level. My opponent in the final round was a Moroccan friend. The idea was not to harm her, but to score. You don’t have to hit her strong to knock her out. Every punch, hit and kick will give you points. We played a clean game and after the match, we had dinner together. If you win two out of three rounds, you can win the game. I won all three rounds.”
She said she was enjoying the fame that she earned after becoming the champion. “Some of my patients recognised it was me and they took photos with me when they came for consultations,” said Dr Noha, who is all set to enter more competitions.
“We all are stressed in different ways. I encourage people to indulge in sports in general as it will improve their lives in the long run,” she added.
As Muay Thai is gaining popularity, she invited more women to take up the niche sport.