By Bassam & Eva Turk, Sport Evasion
Please allow us to introduce to you Dania Assaly, World Class Ski Champion discovering her Lebanese roots! We discovered Dania Assaly on Facebook through freestyle skiers friends that we have in common about a year ago; We “googled” her to find out what an amazing skier she is, and thought that it would be really interesting to invite such an athlete with Lebanese roots to ski in Lebanon, and maybe explore the idea of her representing Lebanon in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi in the Super Pipe and Slope Style.
Dania Assaly was in Lebanon from the 25th of February to the 4th of March, a journey rich with new friendships, great moments on snow, breath taking sightseeing and indescribable moments in the village of her ancestors, Rachaya. You can check her blog for the day by day action on http://daniaassaly.blogspot.co.at/ but in the next lines, we’re going to tell you about this lovely young athlete and tell you why we invited her and try to make you grow fond of her like we did.
Signs don’t lie: The first thing she was told by the security officer at the Beirut Airport was: Ah, you’re Lebanese! Why did it take you so long to visit Lebanon?!” The man was so right! You should know that Dania is a 3rd generation Canadian, with Lebanese roots living in Edmonton- Canada; her great grandfather and great grandmother, both originally from Rachaya left Lebanon around 100 years ago; her grandmother and grandfather from her father’s side are both Lebanese, and no one from her family has visited Lebanon ever since, except her grandfather some 20 years ago. Despite that long period, you’d be as surprised as we were to find out that she eats raw Kebbe and tebleh and ftayer and many other Lebanese specialties back home; she even calls her grandmother, “Grandma Sitti”! We say: ” That girl is Lebanese but doesn’t know how much yet”! The next coming days will tell.
Anyway, let’s keep focus; Dania was invited here because she is a great skier, and because we have hopes she could represent Lebanon in Sochi in 2014, which is why we had a meeting with the President of the LSF, M. Charbel Salameh who was thrilled and very cooperative; We agreed on the next steps and things are moving forward with the best intentions.
At that point, and after 3 days with Dania, we had the chance to know her better, and let me tell you, fellow Lebanese, if this girl ever goes up on a podium for Lebanon, she’d be doing it from the bottom of her heart, not alike a naturalized athlete paid to represent a country! I remember her saying: “Everyone I meet here says they’re proud of me! Wow, that’s so motivating and sweet, I don’t get that a lot”. That was mainly after her interview on MTV (http://mtv.com.lb/Workout/Dany%20Aasali%2002%20Mar%202013), she even got that compliment from the President of the Republic and the Prime Minister, in the same day! (Thank you Minister Wael Abou Faour for setting those meeting on such short notice)
You would ask how Minister Abou Faour got in the picture? Well, as I mentioned above, Dania’s ancestors are from Rachaya, and who would be better to introduce us to Rachaya than our dear friends Walid and Liliane Maalouli, who out of their love for their village, were so motivated by the idea of Dania getting back to her ancestors land, that they started an investigation campaign before Dania got there! the idea that a champion from Rachaya would represent Lebanon in the Olympics got into them; actually, it was them who introduced us to Minister Abou Faour , and when he knew what the plan was, and that her plane was on Monday (2 days later), he took the initiative and got us a meeting with both the President and the PM who showed great cooperation to facilitate the process, especially that her roots are Lebanese and that her achievements are impressive (http://espn.go.com/action/athlete/history/_/id/50712/dania-assaly)
Let’s rewind a bit and go back to that week end in Rashaya, the emotional highlight of the trip. Tracing back the Assaly family (Abou Assaly originally) was an adventure worthy of a movie or a book; going from one house to another, asking the “Mokhtar”, checking with the old folks, making phone calls to people working at the “Serail” and have access to the old books…and taking pictures and falling in love with an authentic village under the eyes of Jabal el Sheikh still covered with snow; it was simply magical. Alike every Lebanese village, you enter a house to ask a simple and quick question, and you end up having coffee, and making a 30 minute visit. Dania was stoked; her eyes were smiling, her face was shining, she was in a trance, in a zone, not knowing what’s hitting her; actually it has been the case on daily basis since she landed. Skiing was so fun, 80’s night and Music Hall left her speechless, Harissa and Byblos knocked her out, and now Rachaya, looking for her ancestor’s house, and getting the “oh you’re an Assaly, you’re Lebanese!” from every single person she spoke to in the village, that was a lot to handle and no time to process.
Everyone she has met so far on that trip was friendly, gentle, nice and smiling to her, and she has been so nice, polite and thankful in return, but those who made an impact on her the most were the people of Rashaya: Walid and Liliane Maalouli, our great hosts for the week end without whom the whole Rachaya chapter wouldn’t have taken place, and all what generated from it (thank you both for doing all what you did, Rashaya is lucky to have people like you), Raydan Mahmoud who took us for an off road trip on Jabal Sheikh and sent back with Dania 10 kgs of sweets and dry fruits, and was such a great company during the whole weekend… you think this was the highlight? Think again, the peak was on the last day, when we finally found both her great grandparents houses and were told all about the Assaly family.
We finally knocked on the right Assaly’s house, the one that knows who to talk to, in order to complete the puzzle. We taped the whole conversation, it was so surreal, and no words could describe what was going on in Dania’s head or heart, but one thing is sure, her life will never be the same after that day. She represented 3 generations that had left and it was a sign for those who stayed here that they were no longer alone left in the village. At that moment, I saw and felt that Dania started to feel somehow, in a way, to the least… not only Canadian, and she seems to like it! If a picture can tell a thousand stories, the expression on her face could tell a million.
The man directed us to Michel Malek Abou Assaly, the guy who can give us the last pieces of the puzzle, but before we left, the Lady of the house fell in tears while taking a souvenir picture with Dania, and that was another moment of the trip!
10 minutes later, we found Michel. He handles an NGO that takes care of blind people, and owns the key of the church right in front of Dania’s ancestors house. We took pictures inside what’s left of the house, and visited the 150 year old church, and Dania learnt that her family used to take care of that Church, and that they offered many icons still present there! She was living another moment, she needed some time by herself to process, but at that point fellow citizens, I can tell you that she had adopted a Lebanon that had adopted her from Day 1.
Dania is now in Austria, for the 9 Queens event, where only 9 women are invited. We wish her good luck from the bottom of our heart and can’t wait to see her again.
Dania Assaly has now a new fan: A whole Country.
Our sponsors: Lady Speed Stick, Clearblue, Smith Optical (Blue Mountain), Armada Skis (La Maison du ski),
Beiruting & SKILEB.com for the exposure and for supporting the snow scene
Classic Burger Joint for the great meals
Eastline Marketing for the online support and marketing
Thank you all for making this trip happen. None of this would have happened if it wasn’t for your support.
We don’t want to forget:
All the officials who showed us support and full cooperation
Everybody mentioned in the article above
Christian Rizk and Mrs Nicole Wakim Freiha at Mzaar Ski Resort for the ski passes
Charbel Sabbagh for a great company on the slopes and for the action photos
Joe Abi Rached and Walid Chehaid, from the “Democratic Republic of Snowboarding” for an unforgettable afternoon ride on the Grande Coulee
Issam Moubarak for lodging Dania at Mzaar Ski Resort
Zoya Issa el Khoury and Amin Dib from MTV Lebanon for a great interview
All the Rashaya people who were not mentioned above and who made her stay memorable
All those we forgot to mention…
You all made this trip what it turned out to be! A MILLION THANK YOU.