Standing a little over 5 feet tall, Chirine Njeim might be easy to miss on her daily training runs along Chicago’s lakefront. Many she passes have no idea she’s about to make Olympic history in Rio.
Njeim will soon become the first Lebanese woman to compete in the Olympic marathon.
“I want to make history,” she said. “I want to be the first woman from the Middle East, to be the first one to represent Lebannon.”
Njeim first discovered her love of running when she moved to Chicago in 2011. After moving to be with her new husband, Njeim started running to stay in shape and learn about her new hometown.
“I said, ‘Why don’t we give it a shot, try to run the Chicago marathon’ and at first it was to totally do it for fun,” she said. “I just love the Chicago marathon and I fell in love with the sport.”
Njeim finished the 2012 race in an incredible three hours and seven minutes.
Soon after, when Njeim decided she wanted to run for more than fun, her drive was unlike anything her husband had ever seen.”
“When she sets her sights on something that clairvoyency of what it takes to get to that point is unlike anything I have seen,” said her husband Ronny Kamal.
Kamal first met Njeim when she was training for her third winter Olympics in alpine skiing.
“When I met her I already knew she was an amazing skier,” he said. “This is different. I saw the pain, I saw the early mornings. She runs back and forth to work every day, sun, rain, snow.”
For Njeim, that was only the beginning.
“I was just slowly falling in love with the sport and it was just so different from skiing,” she said.
Four years after her first Chicago marathon, Njeim posted an Olympic qualifying time of under two hours and 45 minutes in the Chicago Marathon and found herself preparing to toe the line with some of the biggest names in the marathon world.
“To be running with the top female athletes, that makes me a little bit nervous but I try not to think about it,” she said.