Re: Lebanese skier Njeim overcomes anorexia to compete in Games
- From: "Z.M." <zmatni1-webmisc@xxxxxxxxx>
- Date: 19 Feb 2006 14:28:14 -0800
I responded to Ms. Miller Degnan via email as follows:
As a Lebanese-American and Alpine skiing fan, I was happy to see your
article "An unlikely sight: skier from Beirut" (I read it online).
Thank you very much for bringing Chirine Njeim's story to us. Lebanese
around the world have high hopes for her and are keeping their fingers
I hope you don't mind me sharing a couple of observations, though, as I
feel compelled to comment on some items you had in your otherwise
a) You say, "Lebanon, land of camels and sun and sand, also has
mountains, snow, six ski resorts and light-eyed 21-year-old Njeim."
It's easy to assume that Lebanon, being in the Middle East, is a desert
country like Saudi Arabia, or Kuwait. But Lebanon is on the
Mediterranean Sea and has temperate Mediterranean weather. Thanks to
the Mount Lebanon range, Lebanon has ski resorts, as you mentioned, and
skiing is a popular activity with the Lebanese - not that unusual.
Skiing is a sport invented and excelled at in Alpine Europe, but in the
last 50-100 years, it's also been adopted in countless places where
snow and mountains are available, including Lebanon (and the United
Also, I feel the need to point out that Lebanon has NO deserts and
after living and visiting there countless years, I have yet to see a
camel native to the land (ie. outside zoos). Lebanon looks a lot more
like southern California, southern France, southern Italy and Greece
than Saudi Arabia.
b) You say, "...Njeim (pronounced nJIM) is one of two Turin Olympians
There are actually three Olympians representing Lebanon in Turin:
Christine Njeim, Patrick Antaki and Georges Salame (Alpine Skiing). See
Thanks again for your article and your coverage of the Olympics this
Lebanese skier Njeim overcomes anorexia to compete in Games
BY SUSAN MILLER DEGNAN
Knight Ridder Newspapers
SESTRIERE, Italy - Almost everyone who meets Chirine Njeim for the first
time, looks into her blue-green eyes and says, "You're from Beirut?"
Eventually, they see the skis and snow pants and boots and red winter
jacket with the word Lebanon across the back, and say, "An Olympic skier
"A lot of people are confused," Njeim said. "I can understand that."
Lebanon, land of camels and sun and sand, also has mountains, snow, six
ski resorts and light-eyed 21-year-old Njeim. She learned to ski at age
3, became good enough to compete internationally and developed anorexia
in her zeal to be even better.
Now recovered and up to 130 pounds - 46 more than her one-time dip to 84
preceding the Salt Lake City Olympics - Njeim (pronounced nJIM) is one
of two Turin Olympians representing Beirut. The other, Patrick Antaki,
is a 41-year-old skeleton slider who lives in Plano, Texas, and has
Njeim carried the Lebanese flag as the only Olympian from her country at
the 2002 Winter Games, when she was starting to recover and barely
weighed 100 pounds and was "terrified that I'd fall and trip with it,"
She finished 36th in slalom and 45th in giant slalom at those Olympics
in Salt Lake City, where she lives and trains most of the year. Utah,
she said, is considerably more conducive to competitive skiing than the
This time around, she also qualified for the other three events:
downhill, combined and super-G.
"She's extremely driven, an incredible athlete and incredible person,"
said her American coach, Kyle Hopkins of Salt Lake City. "Lebanon is not
exactly a country that supports skiers, so it's much harder for her. But
we think she's good enough to finish in the top 15 of her events. She's
Last Wednesday, Njeim placed 34th of 40 competitors in the downhill in
2:02.86 - more than six seconds behind winner Michaela Dorfmeister of
Austria. On Friday night, in what she called her worst event even before
it began, Njeim straddled a slalom gate in the combined event, flipped
over and crashed onto her back. Within 10 minutes, she was walking
gingerly off the course with a half-embarrassed, half-resigned grin.
"I came into the turn a little early and hooked the gate," she said.
"It's like falling on ice. It hurts. But I'm fine. I can try this one
again because slalom is coming up (Wednesday)."
Njeim's enthusiasm and optimism are endearing to those who know her.
"I remember seeing this little 10-year-old speeding down the mountain in
Lebanon and thinking, `Who is that?' " said Tamer Makram Alamuddin,
whose father, Makram Alamuddin, is the secretary general of the Lebanese
Olympic Committee. "She's a great athlete and an awesome person. We're
all very proud of her."
Njeim said she was drawn to skiing almost immediately as a child
learning the sport with her parents, sister and two brothers. During the
winter months, she'd come home from school and immediately tune her
television to Eurosport - the international version of ESPN. The ski
racing, she said, mesmerized her.
"I just couldn't stop watching," she said. "I told my parents I loved to
ski. I told them, `I want to be like that!' "
Njeim's father Raymond (he is a native Lebanese despite his first name,
Njeim explained), a distributor of chemical products, and Najah, a
homemaker, knew their daughter couldn't develop as a competitive skier
in Lebanon. She went to France to train for a couple of years in her
early teens, then moved to Salt Lake City in ninth grade to attend the
Rowmark Ski Academy, former home of U.S. Olympian Picabo Street.
It was there, during the 2000-'01 season, that Njeim tore the anterior
cruciate ligament of her right knee, and had reconstructive surgery. She
recovered by the next season but caught pneumonia - the beginning of
another traumatic period.
"I was really out of it. No energy," she said. "My only way to come back
was to get stronger and eat healthier. I think I overdid trying to be
"I stopped eating."
Njeim said at first she'd "eat lightly," then she "wouldn't eat anything.
"I mean nothing. I'd have an apple or soda or water, and that was it all
day. Finally I was forced to see a doctor two times a week to get
weighed. I got to the point where I was like, `Oh my God, I'm so fat.' "
Njeim went home to Beirut the summer before the 2002 Winter Games, and
was jolted into reality.
"One of my best friends didn't recognize me," she said. "That day I
began to eat again."
Her 22-year-old sister, Nesrine, will visit Italy this week to watch
Njeim in her remaining events. Today she races in the super-G. Mom and
dad are watching intently from Lebanon.
"I'm best in super-G," she said. "So let's see what happens. I think
things will get better. Please tell the people of Lebanon I thank them
for all their support. I know they're excited I'm here, even if it's