Olympic skier has strong ties to area

Debra W. Buehn
Posted 2/7/18

FLEMING ISLAND – When Natacha Mohbat was three years old, her father would put her in a backpack, hit the slopes and start skiing. She would immediately fall asleep.

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Olympic skier has strong ties to area

Posted

FLEMING ISLAND – When Natacha Mohbat was three years old, her father would put her in a backpack, hit the slopes and start skiing. She would immediately fall asleep.

At age four, she put on skis of her own and never looked back.

Today, she is competing in the XXIII Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea as the top female skier in Lebanon.

That’s great news to her grandparents – Alan and Sue Swain of Eagle Harbor – and the many friends Natacha has made on Fleming Island and the surrounding area. She’s spent virtually every summer since she was a little girl visiting her grandparents here, even attending school for several months at Fleming Island Elementary when war broke out in Lebanon in 2006. Over the years, she swam on the Eagle Harbor swim team, played tennis there and was a member of the North Florida Gymnastics team. She also attended church with her grandparents at St. Mary’s Episcopal in Green Cove Springs.

Having watched her grow up so closely, her grandparents are understandably proud of her making it to the Olympics.

“I think it’s wonderful that she stuck it out and did what was needed to be done to get there,” her grandfather said.

Her grandmother agreed. “I’m so excited for her to have this experience and opportunity to meet these young people from all over the world. It’s just a thrill,” she said.

For Natacha, it’s a dream come true. “I’m very excited,” she said earlier this week from her family’s home in Lebanon (her whole family has dual U.S.-Lebanese citizenship) while she was packing for her trip to South Korea.

Sports have always been a part of Natacha’s life, going back even to her grandparents, who started the ski club for their daughter’s high school when they were living in Williamsburg, New York.

Her mother, Sally Anne, now a physical therapist, won a full scholarship to the University of Indiana as a gymnast, and her father, Patrick, who is part of his family’s textile business in Lebanon, is quite a good skier, her grandfather said.

And if Natacha needs any advice on participating in the 2018 Olympics, she can always ask her brother, Alex, who competed in the 2014 games in Sochi. Also a longtime Fleming Island visitor, he is now 22 and about to graduate from St. Michael’s College in Vermont with a degree in international business. Alex was the top male skier in Lebanon in 2014.

Natacha was also supposed to compete in the Sochi Olympics in Russia but she tore her anterior cruciate ligament and had to have surgery. It’s been a long haul back from that, she said.

“It was very depressing,” she said of the injury, surgery and rehabilitation since she wasn’t sure at first what would happen. “It was four years of hard work,” she said.

But the injury wasn’t the only obstacle she and the other members of her 3-person Olympic team faced. Training is difficult as Lebanon has a short winter (about three months) and the runs are relatively short. That left Natacha doing a lot of training in Austria and South America.

In addition to her skiing, Natacha is in her third year at the Lebanese American University, where she is studying media and communications and psychology.

It’s a long way from her summer days on Fleming Island and especially her time at Fleming Island Elementary School.

She has nothing but good feelings about Fleming Island, and still visits often. “It’s like my Zen. It’s such a peaceful place,” she said. “I used to wait all year long to go to my grandparents on Fleming Island. I love it there. I always have a good time.”

Her grandmother especially remembers their excitement when they were little. “When they came, it was always like they were going to Disneyland,” she said.

Some of Natacha’s favorite memories from when she was younger include her time at Fleming Island Elementary. “It was very different,” from what she was used to, she said.

She especially remembers riding her bike to school, P.E., the cafeteria, the playground, “the whole way of teaching” and fire drills.

“We don’t have those here in Lebanon,” she said.

She especially remembers her friends and all the people there – to whom she said she spent much of her time trying to explain where Lebanon is – and her coaches.

“I had a lot of friends and people pushing me. I had a lot of people who taught me what being committed to sports was,” she said. (For the most part, sports are more of a hobby in Lebanon, she said, with the focus for those still in school on very difficult academics.)

Her coaches were especially important, she added.

“My coaches had a huge impact on me,” she said.

As for her goals at the Olympics, Natacha said she was realistic enough to realize that she wasn’t among the ultra-elite skiers who are able to train constantly.

“I know my chances are not very good because they train all the time,” she said. “But I want to do better than any other Lebanese has ever done.”

Out of a field of about 100, that would put her in the top 15 or 16, she said.

For those who would like to catch a view of Natacha, she will be in the opening ceremonies that will be broadcast at 8 p.m. Friday on NBC. (Some events begin before that.) If you’d like to see the opening ceremonies live, they will be at 6 a.m. on Friday. Check the internet for viewing opportunities at nbcolympics.com and the olympicchannel.com (Channel 624 on Comcast). Her specific event – the slalom – should be on Feb. 17.

“We’ll definitely be watching,” her grandmother said.

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