Wojouh: Mounzer "Munzy" Kabbara
One of the greatest assets of Greater Tripoli is its very own people. Whether in Tripoli or abroad, Greater Tripolitans have continued to excel and innovate. As a result, Tripolicy has decided to launch a series called Project Wojouh to shed light on some notable figures and rising stars.
Mounzer Kabbara is a swimmer who recently earned 1st place at the Texas State Swimming Championships. He will be joining Texas A&M University's Swim Team this semester as part of the Aggie Class of 2025.
Tripolicy's Raafat Yamak sat down with Tripoli's own, Mounzer Kabbara, and discussed his achievements and exciting plans for the future.
Raafat Yamak: Thank you so much for sitting down with Tripolicy. I have been excited to speak with you and to learn more about one of Tripoli's rising sport stars!
Munzer Kabbara: Thank you for having me! I'm really happy to partake in an outlet that strives to show a positive image of Tripoli.
RY: Much appreciated. I wanted to begin by asking you a little about yourself. Where were you born and where did you spend most of your life?
MK: I was born in 2002 in Houston, Texas. When I was six, our family decided to move to Dubai, United Arab Emirates for work. During my time in Dubai, I learned a lot of Arabic and got in touch with my Arab roots. I would say my time in Dubai played a significant role in my cultural development. In 2012, we moved back to Houston. Funny enough, I actually started swimming in Dubai, among the many other sports I was trying out. Let us just say, I wasn't particularly great at many of them.
RY: That's difficult for me to imagine!
MK: No, it's true. Most of the sports I tried never clicked with me. I didn't want to do swimming because it wasn't considered a "cool" sport but the more I practiced, the more I realized that I had a competitive edge in this sport. You know, in Dubai, the sporting culture is different. Over there, with access to so many sport facilities, most people just tried out various sports. That's a blessing that I only came to realize once I moved away from the Middle East.
RY: I know exactly what you mean. So, when you moved back to the United States, were you able to continue your competitive edge in swimming, as in Dubai?
MK: Absolutely not. As a matter of fact, I realized the level of competition here was on a whole other level. That's when the realization came to me that I needed to take my practice routine to the new level if I wanted to be competitive. I knew it was going to be hard work, however with the help of God, my family, coaching team, and loved ones, I was able to persist with their continuous support. The amount of times that my parents woke up with me for those early morning swim meets, and drive hours to get me to my races, I can never thank them enough for it.
RY: That's awesome. Are your parents both from Tripoli?
MK: My father is from Tripoli; however, my mother is from Houston.
RY: Oh nice, so you're basically a native Houstonian as well! Did you visit Tripoli often?
MK: Yes, about 2-3 times a year. COVID-19 had ruined those plans for 2020 due to the health safety risk associated with flying, but I hope things improve for 2021. It was always a highlight for me to meet up with my aunts, uncles, and cousins. I always had a great time.
RY: Ok, so when you touch down in Tripoli, what is the first thing you do?
MK: First thing is catching up with all the family. Once we catch up, then definitely Miramar and Palma. I love sitting on the beach and enjoying Tripoli's beautiful Mediterranean sun. And of course, the cuisine is also to die for. Arayes, mana'eesh, kofta, and wara' enab are those little things that brings excessive joy to my life.
RY: That's hilarious. I couldn't agree more. The food is amazing and Tripoli makes it best! I want to ask you now about your athletic achievements, which will be the meat of this interview. I hope you see what I did there…
MK: I'll give it to you, that was a good one!
So, my swimming career, like any athlete, has its ups and downs. Ever since my freshman year of high school, I wanted to win the State Title and go to the Olympics. However, I realized it's difficult to achieve both, so I focused on the Olympics. During my training, State Championships came up and I decided to compete anyways, even training right before the State Title race, which is not a good idea for a swimmer to be doing. All in all, I placed last. I have to say, I was embarrassed. This was in my sophomore year. After that, I went into extreme training mode hoping that I could up for my performance in the Olympics. Well, before you know it, COVID-19 hit, and the Olympics was delayed. At that moment, I came to the realization that I can't plan everything. As a result, I switched my priority to winning the State title. When the Texas State Championship came around, I went into the competition feeling confident and won first place and two gold medals in the relay portion with my team. In addition, in my junior year, I placed second in the Winter Junior National Championship in Seattle, Washington. After that race, I got a call from Texas A&M University asking me if I would like to be on the University's swim team, which is a true honor for me. I had other universities reach out to me as well, but for me, Texas A&M University was the obvious choice.
RY: You picked the right school! So you basically scored last in Sophomore year, then went on to place second at the competitive Winter Junior National Championship during your junior year, and won the State title in your senior year. I have to say, that's an amazing story to hear. I'm sure it must have taken a lot of reflection after your loss in sophomore year to bounce back and dominate the way you did.
MK: Oh absolutely. You know, my advice to people who experience some kind of failure, especially in sports is that they need to make sure that some part of the sport is fun for you, because it is demanding and without an element of fun it can be hard to keep chasing the mighty dream. So for me, I was not prepared to let anything come in the way of achieving my swimming dream, and I plan to push myself to further limits, God willing. Also, everyone needs to find their "why". Why are you swimming? Why are you doing whatever you're doing? Having that intention and reason will help you continue down the path to what you are aiming to achieve.
RY: Those are beautiful words, Mounzer. I think many people back in Tripoli who will read this interview will benefit from this advice. As you know government neglect and the global economic crisis has really placed Tripoli in a desperate situation, but stories like yours help bring a bit of relief, and reaffirms the notion that with hard work, one can achieve what he or she desires.
MK: Yes, and as I mentioned, it all boils down to your attitude. Keeping a positive attitude is extremely important. I had two choices, either quit swimming after ending up last or work harder. I chose the latter. Many times, people don't see the hard work and only see the end result. I think that misleads a lot of people, unfortunately. And to add one final point, I only permit myself a certain window of time to feel upset about something. You waste mental energy feeling sorry about yourself. There's a great saying where it's possible to "fail forward" meaning failing, learning from your mistakes, and moving on. That's definitely something that I live by.
RY: I love these conclusions. For some people, it takes them a lifetime to reach what you have just described. Thank you so much for your time with Tripolicy today. It was a true honor. You bring out a great side of Tripoli and I hope to see you achieve more success in the future.
MK: Thank you for having me. I really enjoyed this interview!
About the Author:
R. Mahmoud Yamak is a petroleum engineer currently residing in Dallas, TX. He is a commentator on Arab and Middle Eastern affairs who has previously written for the Daily Sabah, The New Arab, Muftah Magazine, among others.