B oulder triathlete Omar Nour crashed hard on his bike during last weekend’s Tri Yas race in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Though he suffered a gnarly scrape on his lower back, Nour popped back up, smiling, and finished the race in third place.
That persistent smile sneaks up on Nour all the time. He can’t help himself, even after a rough crash.
“I’m completely out of the norm,” Nour said, his curly brown hair sprung out from his head at all different angles and a wide grin plastered across his face. “There’s nothing about me that says ‘endurance athlete.’ My hair is crazy. Everybody is usually quiet. I’m a jokester. I want to think that I’m entertaining. That’s what I want to think.”
Nour’s journey to Boulder wasn’t typical of other endurance athletes. He didn’t compete in his first triathlon until age 29, decades later than most professionals who begin competing as kids or teens.
He was born in Cairo, Egypt, where he lived until his family moved to Lausanne, Switzerland, when he was 3. His family moved again, this time to Washington, D.C., where Nour went to high school before attending Johns Hopkins University.
His plan after graduation was medical school, but instead he and brother Diaa Nour, who are about two years apart in age, went into business together during a period of what Omar Nour calls “serial entrepreneurship.”
While building Tot Solutions, a telecommunications business that Diaa Nour still runs today, both brothers spent countless hours at the office, skipping the gym and binge eating from stress.
Omar Nour gained 70 pounds, and one day he said he split his pants while getting into his car. The loud ripping noise yanked him back to reality, he said. He was unhealthy and needed to change something.
A friend suggested trying a triathlon. Then, the 230-pound, 6-foot-3, 29-year-old Omar Nour began training for the Nation’s Triathlon, a Washington, D.C., race with 3,500 competitors.
“It was unbelievable,” Nour said. “I loved it. I looked so out of place. Everybody’s in wetsuits, and I’m this hairy guy with shorts and nothing else. But I still have pictures of this triathlon. In every single picture, I have a smile from ear to ear.”
Nour finished No. 8 for his age group — not bad, he thought. Afterward, he met another of the race’s participants, then Washington Mayor Adrian Fenty, and the two began training together.
This wasn’t a surprise to his brother Diaa Nour, who was still running the company while Nour began training with Fenty and a group of prominent businessmen. Not many people would have the guts to strike up a conversation with the city’s mayor, but that was just another day for his brother, Diaa Nour said.
“I think the reason he gets out of bed everyday is to talk to people,” Diaa Nour said. “He’s the biggest extrovert I know. ‘Who can I talk to today?’ He just loves to meet people, share with people, be with people.”
One day the two had a serious conversation about Omar’s commitment to the business.
Diaa gave him two options: continue racing as a hobby with the business as his top priority, or quit — with his brother’s blessing — and attempt to become the first Egyptian triathlete to compete in the Olympics.
Nour turned professional in 2010, and moved to Boulder in February of 2012 to train with Neal Henderson, with his sights set on London.
His chatty, sociable demeanor helped cast him as the training group’s class clown and social planner, though Henderson said a “methodical” Nour works as hard as possible, all the time.
When good friend and training partner Cameron Dye began winning races last season, Dye said Nour planned several surprise parties in his honor.
“He brings an amazing energy to the (training) group,” Henderson said. “He’s an energizing person. What we’re doing — they’re hard sports. There’s a time for really hard work, and sometimes (athletes) get so focused and obsessed on things that they lose sight of what they’re doing it for. Omar clearly still has that love of the whole process.”
Though he didn’t make London, Omar Nour says he’s not worried. He was “too green,” as he puts it, lacking some of the base mileage that other competitors had from racing since childhood.
With four years until Rio, Omar Nour has plenty of time to improve his weakest sport, swimming.
“It would be incredible,” said Diaa Nour, on Omar competing for Egypt in Rio. “We are American and Egyptian citizens. Growing up, we were always proud of our heritage. I’m not proud of what’s happening in Egypt today. But that being said, we can’t go demonstrate.
“One thing Omar can do is demonstrate through sport, through making it. (He can) draw attention to the country through sport and triathlon. That would mean everything.”
–Follow Sarah Kuta on Twitter: @SarahKuta