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Abu Dhabi Belles brace for Barcelona ‘Ironman’ test

Woman’s triathlon group qualifies for Ironman EMEA Tri Club 70.3 Championships to be held in May 2018

  • Leyla Porteous (2nd from left) and Kate Turney (3rd from left) with fellow BellesImage Credit: Supplied
  • The Tri Belles Abu Dhabi member practise every weekendImage Credit: Supplied
  • Leyla Porteous, founder of Tri Belles Abu Dhabi, hugs a teammate at a triathlon in the UAEImage Credit: Supplied

Abu Dhabi: Don’t let the word Belles mislead you into thinking they are dainty damsels. This group of strong and ambitious women has run, swum and biked its way into qualifying for the Ironman EMEA Tri Club 70.3 Championships to be held in May 2018 in Barcelona after only one season together.

Tri Belles Abu Dhabi is a sporting group that has given a big boost to the growing triathlon community by creating a female-only environment. Whether you’re a complete beginner or a podium regular, it is a forum for female triathletes to connect, improve and have fun in the process.

“The qualification to Barcelona is a lovely reward for all the hard work put in to get the Tri Belles up and running. We had a great performance from six individual race times in the January 2017 IM70.3 Dubai race, finishing third in our division,” says Kate Turney, coordinator of Tri Belles Abu Dhabi.

Beginning of the Belles

Back in 2013, Leyla Porteous, an Australian triathlete was bored of training alone and wondered how many ladies were out there who shared similar interests and sentiments. She started out with a group of seven people, affectionately calling themselves the Belles, and in a span of one year, it had more than 180 members. “It took some time to put everything together, but we managed to take off with support from our main local sponsor Ride Bike Shop through the Liv Brand (the first women’s only cycling brand) and The Room at Zayed Sports City,” she said. “Our sessions helped me get my fitness back after having my son and deal with stress from work; it was a great way to socialise.”

The official group was formed in April 2016. “I knew my time was limited in the UAE, so I ensured that there was a key group of ladies invested in the idea of keeping the group going once I moved back to the US. I left in September of 2016 – just as the season was starting, but Kate and the original Tri Belles really did some amazing things and we have had a wonderful first season,” says Leyla who currently resides in the US.

Turney has been managing logistics and coordination of the group. “My role is pretty fluid - I arrange cheer squads and cheer accessories for races, team kit orders, organise video swim analysis sessions, etc. To be honest we are so new and fresh that most of the time an idea will come into my head and I’ll take it from there. The Belles all pitch in to help wherever possible and I think next season we’ll start having some more formal roles,” said Turney who is a senior manager at Etihad Airways and has been competing in triathlons since 2014.

The TRIumph

The Belles come from all over the world and have had lots of individual achievements in different races but the real triumph for Turney has been watching the community grow. Practice sessions happen every weekend, but get more rigorous before a race, where the Belles do a combination of all three activities to be in shape.

“Triathlon is a friendly sport but also a heavily male dominated one. The speed at which our membership has grown and the number of women who’ve been introduced to triathlon is incredible. I’ve watched at least a dozen of the Belles take their first steps in the world of multisport.” The Belles have also participated in community events like The Pink Run in 2016 to raise awareness for breast cancer.

Tri Belles is a non-profit group run entirely by volunteers. Any proceeds generated by sponsors are utilised for training of members. “It sounds like a cliché but being in an active community that supports each other is so rewarding. To achieve this growth in female triathletes and qualify for a club championship in our first season is something special,” Turney said.

Five tips for ladies who want to be a triathlete

1. Join the Tri Belles Facebook page. It’s a safe environment to ask questions, share information and get inspired. Membership is free –- you just have to be female and interested in any combination of swimming, cycling or running.

2. If you’re curious to see how it all works, come down to a race. The UAE race season runs from October to April and there are races (swim, bike, run, aquathlon, duathlon, triathlon) most weekends.

3. Be brave and take the first step. Perhaps you and a friend could start out together – having someone to train with is always good for encouragement and accountability. A few good training grounds are:

-Abu Dhabi Striders have a great weekly running schedule across the city

-Al Raha Cycling group go out every weekend from Khalifa City A

-Yas Cycles does a ladies’ weekly ride on Sundays at the F1 circuit

-Liv female ride every Wednesday at Al Wathba Cycling Track.

-You can hire bikes at the F1 track every Sunday and Tuesday evening, while Wednesday evening is Ladies night.

-Abu Dhabi Triathlon Club organises a free Saturday swim at Le Meridien

-Abu Dhabi chapter of Moms Run This Town are a lovely bunch of women who organise running meet-ups around Abu Dhabi.

4. Take part in a race as part of a relay team –– by doing one of the three legs you can get a feel for how the sport comes together

5. If you’re ready to take part in a triathlon start with one of the shorter distances –– a super sprint is typically a 375m swim, 10km bike and 2.5km run.


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