May El-Khalil is one of the most inspirational Lebanese public figures of our time and the founder and president of the Beirut Marathon Association.
Not only is she a beautiful example of perseverance, but she is also living proof that dreams do come true. Keep reading to learn about her philosophies on life, her passion for Lebanon and her dreams and hopes for the future.
You were a part of the Diaspora. Did you ever plan on coming back?
Lebanon was always an option, but coming back to Lebanon happened without truly thorough planning. Most of the Lebanese Diaspora who live in Africa usually come back. The reason to come back was the children, they were feeling disconnected so we thought it would be best to introduce them to their roots, to come back as a family and have them identify with Lebanon.
The war was a main factor for delaying the process of coming. Eventually when we came back most of the kids were off to college abroad but at least they had a place to come back to.
What were your feelings when you came back to Lebanon from Nigeria?
Did it change over time? What makes Lebanon HOME to you?
The years and the wars definitely took a toll on the country I grew up in, but the little things that formed my connection with Lebanon were still there. It wasn’t difficult to reconnect. In fact, the connection to the streets, the surroundings and the people was as simple and real as the old walnut tree we used to hide in, the newspaper kiosk next door, the streets we ran on, the alleys that witnessed our footsteps and the mountains that kept our memories and never-ending dreams.
What is the definition of HOME to you?
HOME is where love is felt, the love of my husband and family. It is where I see familiar faces that complete my sense of existence. It is where emotions are all too genuine and real. It is where I feel most connected to myself, and this is here, in Lebanon.
Why did you stay in Lebanon?
My accident was definitely a turning point in my life, as I had not thought of staying before it happened. In
2001, two years after coming back to Lebanon, I suffered a near-fatal accident that placed me in coma.
However, armed with strong will and great love for life, and after dozens of surgeries, I walked again. In order to celebrate the gift of life and the newly found mobility, I founded the Beirut
Marathon Association to help mend the divisions by shifting focus from what divides the Lebanese into embracing the common that joins them through the sport of running and that is: their love for life and their commitment to the NGOs that serve humanity.
What are your other hobbies? Besides running?
It has to be sports, sports and sports.
Giving back to the community through creative ideas using artistic solution is also another hobby of mine. Being on the board of many charitable organizations allows me to help pitch ideas that can mobilize fundraising and donations streams.
What is happiness for you?
Happiness is accomplishing things that others think are impossible to accomplish. Happiness is seeing my family members happy.
What is your message to young people who want to leave and go make their lives elsewhere?
I encourage adventures. One has every right to experience different cultures and visit different cities. The world is a big place filled with wonders.
I believe young people should explore but they should keep in mind that Lebanon needs them, so my advice would be: “TRAVEL! Travel to learn, to experience, to discover and to share all while keeping Lebanon at heart, and when the time is right, come back! Bring back the energy, bring back all your learning and all your skills and invest in your country.
Lebanon needs you so be the change needed for Lebanon to become the country of our dreams.”
Do you have hope for Lebanon?
Always and forever, Lebanon has always been able to rise above all conflicts and challenges, and it will continue to rise despite all odds.
Through the Beirut Marathon experience we sensed the goodness of Lebanese people and their willingness to come together, showing true colors of love and unity. Let’s just extend this energy felt on marathon day to other days and to other situations. This way we will have a hopeful, positive and simply awesome Lebanon.
Why do you think foreigners come from other countries and love it here so much and end up staying?
What’s not to love about Lebanon? It has everything. It has scenery, it has love, it has humanity, it has a cause, it has history, culture and purpose. Lebanon has soul, art and most of all, has the biggest running event in the Middle East. To put it humbly, what you see in November’s marathon is what
Lebanon represents. The combination of all things organic and genuine produces a beautiful chaos that allows them to venture into their creative minds.
What are some of your future dreams?
On a personal level, my dream is to be able to run, even if I can do it one time, it would be worth it, to be able to feel my soles barely touching the ground while my soul is celebrating freedom on the streets of Beirut, a city so dear to my heart
On a national level, my dream would be Lebanese superheroes making it to the Olympics, bringing back medals and raising the name of Lebanon in the sports worlds. Those superheroes will become role models to future generations who will be able to see that dreams are possible and that sports has the power to better us as humans, unite us as Lebanese and change us as a country.
What you do to help municipalities and other initiatives?
We definitely help on a knowledge sharing level. The Beirut Marathon is committed to share its expertise and owned resources with organizations and municipalities who want to organize running events in their area.
This year we are happy to be extending logistic and management services to 64 regional races all over the country, further extending the idea of running for health and for causes.
What is it like being a woman in Lebanon?
I would rather think of myself as a human living in Lebanon, one who is proud and inspired by the NGOs and social movements who are advocating to make women’s lives better. We do, however, still need stronger laws to protect against physical and emotional violence toward the vulnerable people in our society.
What is it like being a successful woman in Lebanon?
I am a firm believer that success comes from the cause-driven supporters and believers. The Beirut Marathon organizes running events in Lebanon.
Running events need runners, cheerers, volunteers, governmental entities, official representation, medical teams, non-governmental organizations, amongst others. Our events are deemed successful because of the participation and support of each Lebanese who takes part, and this is how I identify with success. Beirut
Marathon is a love brand and we will keep investing in the hearts of the thousands of Lebanese who put their trust in us.
IAAF Road Race Label Events are races that the International Association of Athletics Federations selects as one of the top road races in the world. There are three labels: bronze, silver and gold.
In 2014, BDL Beirut Marathon was awarded the silver label. Lebanon is one of 22 countries worldwide with this distinction.