Amna Al Haddad is a weightlifter, a Muslim athlete, the inspiration for the Nike Pro Hijab, part of the ‘Goodnight Stories For Rebel Girls’ series and a true role model for all girls. Win tickets to her storytelling session for 5-9 year olds at Le Gourmet, City Walk, below and read all about why and how this amazing woman is pushing boundaries and championing women’s rights.
Please tell us a little bit about you
The beginning of my journey started when I was very unhappy with myself, and my lifestyle was very unhealthy and negative. One day, I’ve said to myself that I’ve have enough and decided to go for a walk around Safa Park in 2009, and that walk changed the course of my life. I never thought that a single step could lead me to become an competitive athlete or role model. While pursuing my physical fitness, I was also a full-time journalist working for a leading English newspaper. During the same time, I had competed in a sport called CrossFit, the Reebok crossfit Asia regionals in Korea, where I made history as the first GCC National to participate, and that was the beginning of it all.
When did you first know that you wanted to become a weightlifter?
Whenever I went to the gym, I loved the weight training section. I first used to do it to build stronger bones, muscles and reduce my body fat percentage. As I was more exposed to the gym environment, I further learned what Olympic weightlifting was, which is a sport that requires you to lift weights from the ground to overhead in a quick motion. After the crossfit regionals, I decided to come back to the UAE and focus on an official sport that I can achieve in and raise my country’s flag — I set my sight on the Rio Olympics, training as a weightlifter. I felt there was an under representation of Emirati women in sports, so I took it upon me to create a shift in that image and change the misconception of weightlifting for women.
How did you redefine yourself and your objectives afterwards?
I made it my goal to stay focused no matter what challenges I would be facing as I was embarking on an untouched path and creating a new one. I told myself I’ll keep going no matter what. As a result of that, within less than four years of training, despite injuries, I joined the UAE national female weightlifting team, and we had competed at the Olympic Qualifier that led us to gain one spot for the Rio Olympics. I learned despite achieving such heights, success is more about self-acceptance and being in the journey, not the end result. As with everything in life, success comes and goes, but how you grow as a human being, is the ultimate success.
Did you face many obstacles to achieving your dream?
Absolutely. When you tap into something new, and pioneer a new path, you surely deal with a lot of rejection, ridicule, and limited support. There was challenges with finding the right infrastructure, sponsorship, and training environment.
I was pursuing this goal independently, and at a time where women in sports wasn’t encouraged as a career path, it made the journey that much more difficult to realize, and now it is more rewarding to talk about and the lessons learned dealing with adversity.
Do you think that times are changing for girls in the UAE and worldwide in terms of what is expected of them?
With a doubt. Change is happening. Our UAE leadership are pushing girls and women to get the best education and have better opportunities than ever before, but it is also up to as individuals to seek the things we want to achieve, because often times, it’s there waiting for us to make it happen. It’s important to acknowledge as individuals we all have different talents to offer the world, and to realize our full potential all we need to do is try.
What advice would you give to all of the girls out there who want to succeed at something that would traditionally be thought of as a ‘mans’ job or hobby?
When pursuing weightlifting, I never once thought it was a male-only activity. I saw it as a sport, a neutral activity, that can help build my confidence and overall health.
When seeking a goal or a passion that may be unpopular traditionally, it is important to keep an open mind and realize it us who sets these limits. The job itself, or the activity itself, cannot distinguish whether the participant is male or female, just how good you are at doing it. My advice is work on your skills, focus on the goals and achieving the success you’re looking for, and more so don’t listen to what other people about how you should live your life. We all have unique talents, and those talents need to be shared with the world. Always approach your goals with an open heart and good intentions.
Who were your role models as a child? And why do you think it’s important to put forward more strong female role models?
I can’t truly say I’ve had any role models to look up to being a kid, especially not from our region and not for the kind of activities I dreamed of pursuing. Our upbringing was very much focused on finishing school, get good grades, get higher education, etc. but since I was 16, I truly wanted my own financial and choice independence in life, so I’ve held many jobs prior to my full-time position. At that time, it wasn’t common for school students to be working part-time jobs, especially as an Emirati girl. And sports as a career wasn’t pushed in schools either back then, PE classs barely had proper physical fitness component to them. This is what I hope my story does, truly inspires the younger generation and creates hope for them that there are many paths to take out there and one size doesn’t fit all. Having strong women as role models can give young girls hope to know they can have big dreams and goals, and that their gender should never hinder their success in their chosen field. In the end of the day, I personally believe everyone should be their own role model and look at others for inspiration, not “model” Per Se as each individual had different life circumstances, upbringing, background and experiences. In the end of the day, we are all human and we all can be inspired by each other.
Amna’s storytelling session will take place on Friday, 25 May from 10am to 12pm at Le Gourmet City Walk and she’d love to see you and your little ones there! For tickets please visit www.galerieslafayettedubai.com/le-gourmet/table-talk/storytelling/ or click below to enter our competition to try and win a pair!
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featured image via Instagram, all other images kindly supplied by Amna Al Haddad