top of page

Peak performer: In conversation with Nelly Attar

Rotana's Health and Fitness Ambassador speaks to us about her journey as she redefines Arab adventurers in sport, all while conquering the world's toughest peaks, breaking fitness records and challenging narratives

In the world of extreme sports, Nelly Attar stands as a beacon of inspiration. The Saudi-born Lebanese athlete, trainer and entrepreneur is Rotana's very own Health and Fitness Ambassador, but it's only one of the many hats she wears. An accomplished climber, she conquered Mount Everest, became the first Arab to summit K2 and broke a world record for two-finger pull-ups. Fresh from an expedition in Nepal, where she hiked three peaks as part of a clean-up mission, Nelly spoke to Rotana Lifestyle, sharing exclusive insights into her journey.

Although she started her career as a psychologist, Nelly's path evolved to incorporate her love for fitness and extreme sports. But it wasn't a mere career shift; it was a profound transformation driven by her love for adventure and physical challenges. "I got into therapy, to help change people's lives. But as I went through it, I felt that it wasn't my avenue – sports was," she said.

"The shift was gradual and it began by offering freelance fitness classes to help women in Saudi Arabia get more active, later transitioning to part-time lessons, alongside my therapy job. I remember it getting to a point where I sensed that my full-time role as a psychologist was distracting me from my passion. It dawned on me that I could create a bigger impact through sports. That realisation marked a tipping point. So, I launched a studio in Saudi and bid farewell to my therapy job. Since then, my focus has been entirely on sports."

In 2017, during a time of national transformation in Saudi Arabia, Nelly launched MOVE – the kingdom's first-ever dance and fitness studio. It was a venture born out of a necessity to make sports more accessible for women in the region. Reflecting on the brand's beginnings, she explained: "Sports wasn't very accessible for women before 2018." Her commitment to this cause was evident in her journey, from teaching classes in challenging locations to establishing the first dance studio in the region.

"I started by renovating my father's warehouse and providing free classes from there. Within a month, every single class was fully booked. And that's when I decided to turn this into a business. Channeling all efforts into this initiative, I welcomed other trainers. Initially, we offered fitness lessons and a bit of dance, but the evolution came naturally. Responding to the feedback from our participants, we morphed into the kingdom's first dance studio, driven by the profound impact it created." The rest, as they say, is history!

In July 2022, Nelly added another feat to her list. As an avid climber, who has scaled the likes of Mount Kilimanjaro and the Matterhorn, her achievements are nothing short of extraordinary. 2019 marked the first time she scaled Mount Everest – the world's highest peak at 8,849 metres – and in 2022, she broke ground as the first Arab to conquer K2 – not just a personal accomplishment but an achievement that rewrote the narrative for Arab women in extreme sports. However, she emphasised an important distinction in the media portrayal of her achievement, stating that she was not just the "first Arab woman" (as she's often described) but, in fact, the "first Arab ever" (regardless of gender) to ascend K2, which is one of the most dangerous mountains in the world, just 200 metres shy of Mount Everest's height.

A challenging climb, K2 demands meticulous preparation. Peeling back the layers that preceded conquering the 8,611-metre peak, she said: "My training required lots of hiking, uphill climbs, strength workouts to protect my joints, ice baths to prepare my nervous system for the cold and prolonged periods on my feet. A typical week involved 15 to 20 hours of training, occasionally peaking at 30, with some weeks marked for recovery, where I cycled back down to 10 hours."

As she reflected on her journey to this record-breaking feat, Nelly said: "I never planned to conquer K2 and Everest when I first started hiking. The journey to this point began with a love for the outdoors. I hiked extensively across Lebanon, especially after I finished my master's degree and before I started working. I eagerly anticipated my weekly hikes, often joining elder groups just to immerse myself in nature. As the years passed, my passion deepened; I dedicated holidays and even took unpaid leaves for climbs. After starting my own business, I had the freedom and flexibility to pursue my passion at will, leading to conquering Everest and, a few years later, K2."

Beyond the summits, as Rotana's Health and Fitness Ambassador, Nelly collaborates with the hotel chain, driven not only by admiration for its properties but also by a genuine connection with the team. "I love the team and I love how much they're investing in wellness and fitness," she said. "I've always wanted to collaborate with hotels, and with Rotana's regional presence, coupled with their focus on wellness and sustainability, it felt like a natural fit."

While joining Rotana was a career highlight, equally thrilling was her move to Dubai last year, a long-desired transition. She expressed: "I've always wanted to live in Dubai, and for two years, I kept going back and forth because I felt so attached to Saudi, which has always been my home. It's still my home, but now my primary home is the UAE, so making that shift was one of my biggest achievements."

Another noteworthy accomplishment for Nelly was initiating a sustainability project focused on cleaning up mountains, a long-held aspiration. She highlighted the challenges – budget constraints and the enormity of the task. Yet, against the odds, she successfully brought this ambitious project to life.

Reflecting further on the year gone by, Nelly humbly added that breaking a world record for two-finger pull-ups also ranks among her biggest achievements of 2023. "Having torn four ligaments in my ankle, I was told that the recovery process was going to be a year long. So I started to do a lot of pull-ups and while I still had the cast on, I told myself I'm going to break the world record because that will keep me going while training."

Nelly's journey is not confined to personal accomplishments. Her recent mountain cleaning expedition in Nepal highlights her commitment to environmental sustainability and making an impact. Her aspirations for 2024, therefore, revolve around creating impactful initiatives and contributing to brands and projects that align with her values.

In closing, Nelly imparts a straightforward piece of advice: "Move more. It's simple and easy – no need for complexity. You don't need to go to a CrossFit gym or go for a run to train. We're designed to move, so it can be as simple as walking on the beach, playing with your kids or rearranging your house, just as long as you move every single day and allocate some time to get your blood pumping. It's that simple!"


bottom of page