Leila Dachraoui Benlaib swam in the US Masters at the end of April. She lives in Dubai, Tunis and Stockholm and works as a lawyer and university teacher. She will turn 51 in May and is on her way to becoming a top 3 swimmer in Europe.
Describe your background in sports?
- When I was 12 years old, I was selected for the Tunisian Junior National Swimming Team. At the age of 13, I was admitted to the Elite National Team. So from 1985 to 1990 I was a competitive swimmer in the Tunisian National Team.
I was champion in the 100 and 200m backstroke in all categories in Tunisia.
As well as gold silver and bronze medalist several times in the Arab Championships. In the African Championships we took gold in the 4x100 medley. Our Tunisian women's team also held the African and Arab record for 4 years. I have competed both regionally and internationally and was the youngest swimmer in the African Games Nairobi 1984.
Tell us why swimming is your sport of choice?
In 2017, I made a comeback to competitive swimming as a master swimmer while meeting my coach a South African Olympic swimmer Charl Van Crous who helped me to win gold in the French Championships in the 50m backstroke, silver medalist in the 100 backstroke and bronze medalist in the 200 backstroke just 6 weeks after I started with him. And since March 2017, I have been ranked top 3 in France in my age category where I have won almost 30 medals in the French Masters Swimming Championships.
In summer 2017 I competed in the World Masters Championships and came 12th in the 200 backstroke, 8th in the 100 and 5th in the 50 backstroke with one medal (they give medals to the first 6). I have competed with SK Neptun in the European Masters Championships in Slovenia 2018 where I won 2 bronze medals in 50 and 100 backstroke. In Sweden I also won a medal in 100 backstroke and came 4th in 50 backstroke in the xMasters championships I took part in 2019.
This summer I competed in Rome in the European Championships again and won bronze in both 50m and 100 backstroke. I have competed in several other smaller competitions and even in the senior elite championships in Tunisia with elite swimmers where I was around 12 in all of Tunisia.
What is the best thing about swimming?
-You can focus on yourself 100%. You are only alone with yourself, your thoughts and your body. It's so calming. For me it is also a therapy for my anxiety. It's also an individual sport where you use all the muscles and require a good level of fitness and strength. As a sprinter, I also work out a lot in the gym.
Describe your goals with swimming?
-I am currently Top 10 in Europe. I would like to reach top 3 in Europe and why not become top 3 in the world. Master swimming allows a development over the years. By trying to keep the same level you make progress! I want to keep myself around 33 seconds in 50 backstroke and 1.13/ 1.12 in 100 backstroke for the next 5 years.
Tell us about the competition you will be doing in the USA?
- At the end of April I will compete for the first time in Irvine, USA.
It will be my first time competing in Yards. The yards pool is a slightly shorter pool than the short pool. It is perfect for me as a sprinter. I'm preparing myself with a lot of fitness training where we will add sprinting and explosive exercises.
Why have you taken up competitive swimming again?
- I love challenges. It makes me mentally strong. I always want to push the limits to the next level. At the same time, it was also a continuity to my younger sports career which I had left too early (at 19 years old) due to little support from our Tunisian swimming federation.
"I really want to inspire middle-aged women all over the world and especially in the Arab world to take up sport, return to competition or even physical activity to stay strong and healthy both mentally and physically for as long as possible. You also meet many nice people through sport and share incredible experiences. Thanks to sport, I also go through premenopause with less severe symptoms".
How many sessions do you train per week and how are they organized?
- I swim five to six times a week. There are 1 to 1 and a half hour sessions. Two in the long course and three in the short course and a recovery session in the short or long course. I also do 2 sessions at the gym where I work on strength and fitness.
Do you train other sports, if so what and why?
-No, I don't. Apart from the gym sessions where I cycle or row. I also do crossfit similar to the series I can't train anything else because I don't have time for extra training and because we as swimmers need a lot of time in the water. But next fall I will try Swimrun (when I am free from swimming). A friend who runs a Swimrun club has invited me to try it! It will be fun! But during the 27 years when I was away from swimming (between 1990 and 2017) I tried running and cycling. I have done a lot of step and aerobic classes and TRX. I have also learned to windsurf and ski.
Many adults find it difficult to learn to swim, what advice would you give them to get started?
- To take a freestyle course and learn to breathe and kick correct with the legs! The water position in the freestyle swimming (body position) is very important. It is the foundation Then comes the technique. Swimming with a friend who knows the technique can help improve it and is certainly more fun.
Many people think swimming takes up a lot of time, how do you balance it with training?
- I train during lunch time. I am not a morning person 😆. You should avoid training late in the evening, it keeps you awake because of the adrenaline 😄. I have flexible working hours. That helps a lot!
You can find Leila on Instagram https://www.instagram.com/leila_dachraoui/
We wish you all the best, you are a true inspiration Leila!