Lebanese-Saudi Nelly Attar, The Movement Initiator, opens up about her biggest expedition yet
Born and raised in Saudi Arabia, Nelly Attar is part-Lebanese, part-Saudi. After earning her BSc at the American University in Beirut (Lebanon) and her MRes at Kingston University, she entered the mental health field, working as both a psychologist and a coach therapist.
After several years in the field, Nelly pivoted, taking up work in sports and fitness, two of her longtime passions. She quickly attracted an audience, becoming one of the premier fitness ambassadors and healthy-living advocates in all of the Middle East. For four years, she taught numerous classes to girls and women—spanning from CrossFit and spinning, to boot camps, running camps, dance classes and fitness programs—aligning with the kingdom-wide effort to promote active lifestyles and impact lives positively. All the while, she spread her offerings beyond Riyadh, even opening her own studio, which she named “Move.”
Nelly’s influence on sports and athletics is immense: in 2020, The Muslim Women Network named her “One of the Top Influential Women in Sports,” while Sports 360 called her the “Female Fitness Influencer of the Year Across the GCC” in 2019. She continues to thrive as a business mind, trailer, athlete, and fitness thought leader.
Below, Nelly Attar opens up about her journey so far, and the big milestone moment she’s currently prepping for.
Tell us about yourself, Nelly Attar. Who are you now, and how did you get to where you are today?
I am someone who loves life and movement, and I aspire to live life fully every day. I got to where I am today because of my life experiences – and the many challenges I had to endure along the way.
That’s wonderful. Thanks to you, Move now exists. It’s the first dance studio in Saudi Arabia. What inspired you to begin this project, and why was it an important milestone? Moreover, what does your studio offer that’s unique?
My inspiration to start Move was actually to provide free bootcamps to the wider community, as a platform to encourage movement, especially for those who don’t know where or how to begin. The whole project has been a massive milestone for me. It started with a single step, which morphed and evolved into a business down the line. That single step, launching one free bootcamp at my stepfather’s warehouse, ended up creating significant value for many across the Kingdom. This also eventually led me to change my career.
The studio uniquely offers a variety of dance classes/genres to audiences of all ages. We also have classes for children – our Minions – and for young adults. In addition, we carry out programs for seniors and offer online fitness programs and seasonal hiking trips (locally and overseas). Our studio highlights diversity, inclusion, authenticity, and fun in everything that we do.
The progress you’ve made shows everyone that hard work pays off. Can you talk about the background that sparked this journey and motivated you to pursue your dreams?
Hard work eventually pays off. The key is to trust the process when things get rough. Trust the process when you don’t see results. Trust the process and persevere, even in the darkest and hardest of days. The time will come, when your efforts begin to show you results. My motivation has been to find meaning and purpose. I am constantly in search of purpose, and I often pivot to live by my purpose and passion, which can change as time passes. I have also sought to improve myself and grow as an individual.
What’s the earliest memory you have pushing up against the frontiers of the world? Why were you motivated to work yourself as you have and to show what humanity is capable of?
It was my trip to Kenya with my dad, when I was 17 years of age. That trip was what kickstarted my drive to adventure. We traveled across the country, doing multiple activities each day, including climbing. I came back from that trip reborn. I was motivated to take on climbing in earnest, because I understood the journey I embark on with each climb. Climbing is a physical and emotional journey that leaves me feeling charged with hope and inspiration each time.
We give our condolences for the loss of your father during the COVID-19 pandemic, and we know you use this experience to help others work through similar personal grievances. Can you share the best lesson you were able to take away from such as experience?
Feel what you need to feel. Grief is the most difficult experience in life. Take the time you need to process grief, and engage in activities that help put your heart at ease. Only you can really help yourself in this process. It’s a dark and lonely journey, but for every dark night a bright day lies ahead. I promise.
Your legacy for Arab women is incredible. What kind of morals and lessons do you hope to leave other Arab women with?
Live authentically. We are told what to do, what we shouldn’t do. We are told what we should look like, what we shouldn’t look like. How we should behave, how we shouldn’t behave. Be you, and let other people think whatever they’re going to think. Only by living authentically, can you make a unique contribution in this world.
Tell us more about your upcoming expedition. What kind of emotions do you feel leading up to it? Nerves, excitement? In the days leading up, do your emotions shift?
I’m excited about my upcoming climbing expedition on K2. I’m slightly nervous and slightly at peace. My emotions shift based on how overwhelming the day is, and the closer I get to the climb. So yes, of course, emotions do get amplified the closer I am to the climb. Only a few days to go!
You’re now on your way to completing the second-highest and most difficult summit in the world, Savage Mountain (K2) in Pakistan. Tell us about how the training and preparation are going. Is this exposition similar to how you would prepare for others, regardless of the difficulty level?
I will be attempting the world’s second-highest peak situated in Pakistan, K2 (8611m above sea level). More people have been to outer space than have climbed this mountain! Fewer than twenty women globally have completed K2. It is a big, big challenge I am about to embark on. Inshallah kheir ya rab!
Training for this climb has been very different from my other climbs. As the climb is technically very demanding, I have had to spend a lot more hours on my feet. Every week I hike, run, carry loads up staircases, complete full-body training through dynamic strength sessions, and train for the cold using ice baths.
I have been traveling often in the past few months to attend to my training needs and goals. Some weeks. I have done 30 hours of training! Other weeks have consisted of 12-18 hours.
You’re a world leader for women. Other women want to be just like you. What do you say to them about breaking social barriers and stepping beyond their comfort zone? What advice can you offer to young Arab women?
Go after your dreams. No one can do it for you but you. It will be a big uphill climb that requires grit, perseverance, drive, and persistence. If you stay focused and put in the work, you’ll get it. You can and you will, girl!
Tell us more about your Sunday Sports initiative. Why is it important to keep movement as a part of your weekly or daily routine, and what does something like Sunday Sports do to help motivate your followers?
#SundaySports was inspired by my daddy (Allah yerhamo). He loved his sports on Sundays. He would always brief me about how his “Sunday Sports,” speaking with immense joy. After my father passed away, Sunday Sports gave me a purpose and a reason to step out of the house and stay active. Many people worldwide started to join Sunday Sports virtually. It turned into an awe-inspiring movement, as well as a weekly highlight for me (during the darkest of times). A year and a half since my dad passed, Sunday Sports is still a day that reminds me (and my community) of my dad’s spirit and light.
We know that emotions like anxiety tend to creep in at the worst times. While dealing with difficult personal times as well as a nerve-wracking career, can you tell us about how you manage your own anxiety and are able to push past these emotions when you need to?
Sports. Sports make me happy. Consistent training has not only helped me emotionally over the years: it has also helped me cope with grief, and helped me build the wonderful community surrounding me today. If we made sports available as a pill, it would be a blockbuster medication for depression and anxiety.
Motivation can be one of the most difficult barriers to surmount. How have you managed to face difficulties in motivation, and how do you overcome them to continue making the progress you have, physically and professionally?
Motivation comes and goes. That is a given. I don’t depend on motivation to do what I have to do. It’s discipline and habit that keep me going. When motivation is around, it feels great and it gives me that extra kick to get things done. When it’s not around, I will get things done anyway. My advice to anyone reading this: build habits out of the tasks/activities you want to commit to over time. Do not rely on motivation alone to get you through the process.