JEDDAH: A Saudi dentist and endurance swimmer has set a new women’s world record time for swimming across the Red Sea.
Mariam Saleh Binladen took just four hours to make the crossing from the Saudi island of Tiran to the Egyptian resort of Sharm El-Sheikh.
She was accompanied in the water on her 9-kilometer swim by Lewis Pugh, a British South African endurance swimmer and UN patron of the oceans.
Pugh was on the first leg of his campaign to raise awareness about the destruction of oceans and coral reefs in the run up to the 2022 UN Climate Change Conference (COP27) due to take place in Sharm El-Sheikh next month.
Binladen told Arab News: “During the final moments of the swim, I felt elated, a sense of jubilation, and blessed to have achieved my goal with my body intact.
“I had concerns before embarking on the swim, namely the weather conditions and sharks. As the last moments approached, I thanked Allah that the team had made it safe and sound through what were quite hazardous conditions.”
Due to high winds and rough seas the swim had to be staggered over two days.
She said: “We completed the swim in two segments and fed less often to minimize the risk of shark attacks. I would say that the most challenging aspect was at the midway point when the sea became very turbulent.
“We had also agreed to swim without protective cages, so those sharks were always at the back of our minds.”
Binladen has been involved in open water endurance swimming professionally since 2012.
“I train hard at least three times a week. Over my weekends, I alternate between four to six hours of swims to maintain momentum. I maintain a dedicated fitness regime, and I keep to a physically gruelling schedule when I am preparing for a challenge,” she added.
Her first major world record-breaking swim was in London’s River Thames in 2016, but she pointed out that the Red Sea attempt was for a greater cause.
“I agreed to join this challenge as the cause is near to my heart. These challenges are not for the faint of heart; you really need to be disciplined with your training and build up your physical and mental strength. Those two things are what will keep you going and be the key to success,” she said.
Long-distance swimming, she noted, was physically and mentally challenging and it was only with the support of a sports counsellor and her family that she was able to prepare herself.
“We sift through any fears and concerns together. I cannot stress enough how important it is to always work with professionals and to surround yourself with the right people.
“I’m blessed to also have the support and reassurance of a loving family without whom I could never have embarked on this journey,” she added.
Binladen’s charitable work has included offering support to refugees.
She said: “I am primed and physically and mentally prepared to take on my next challenge.
“In terms of the future, I will continue to use my challenges to raise awareness of issues that concern me, my philanthropic work is ongoing, and I have my career, and I am very busy.”
She now has five world records to her name, including being the first Arab to complete the Dardanelles Strait open water race in Turkey from Asia to Europe, in August 2015, completing the 6.5-km distance in one hour, 27 minutes, and 26 seconds.
In September 2016, she became the first Saudi to complete an assisted swim across the English Channel of 39.7 km, a feat she did in 11 hours and 41 minutes.
And she was also the first swimmer to cross the Dubai Creek and Dubai Water Canal, clocking up a total distance of 24 km in nine hours and 10 minutes.