by Alex Bernier
Victory prevails in the United Arab Emirates as a mature Olympic weightlifter transcends the limits of the country’s emerging athletic culture. Four years ago, Amna Al-Haddad decided to quit her full-time job as a journalist to pursue her passion for sports, a rather unusual aspiration for an Emirate woman. Never looking back, she went on to become the first GCC national to compete in the Asia Crossfit Regionals held in South Korea, where she ranked 77th out of 140 women. Today, as one the few covered women athlete to be sponsored by Nike, she has her eyes set straight on the 2016 Olympic games in Rio de Janeiro. Her accumulated milestones, and all the victories against herself in the face of adversity seem far behind as this warrior prepares for the biggest battle of her life - the one for her dream of rising for her country as an Olympian.
‘’I consider myself a human before anything else; then a woman, an Arab, Athlete, Hijabi, Hijabi Athlete, Emirate from the Al Haddad clan. That’s the reality of coming from the Arab world- there are many labels, and each come with their own expectations and meaning attached to them. ‘’
Amna's ascension within the athletic community was not spared of the historically redundant prejudice and bigotry exuded from human beings allergic to change.
‘’ I was told many times that I belong in the kitchen, that I was competing in a manly sport, and was doing something wrong as a covered women athlete. I never let that bother me or deter me from my goals and what I want to achieve for myself. You just can’t pay attention to that kind of criticism. Women these days are a lot more empowered, they know their rights, and can make their own choices. In fact, I know of American Muslims who wear the niquab on their own accord. Obviously there will always be extremists in this world, but many women who wear the hijab are participating in physical activities and sports worldwide! It’s a phenomena that is slowly becoming the norm and isn’t stopping women from reaching their goals.’’
To power through the storm, the 26 year old athlete constantly reminds herself to keep moving.
‘’Take that step, don’t freeze up just because you are afraid of falling. Any step forward is the step in the right direction, remaining still is the worst thing you can do to yourself. Don’t let fear hold you back. I am 110% afraid of my goals, but I keep going despite the ups and downs, the rejections, and all the negative talk.’’
If Amna could speak to herself five years ago, her message would be clear - take the plunge!
“Changing your path will not be easy, but you can never be too young or too old to take control of your own life. Either you will succeed, or learn a valuable lesson you never would have acquired had you not given it a shot. Enjoy the journey, and remember the end goal is just a destination to another path.”
Each day is a new battle for this young pioneer; from painful physiotherapy sessions, muscle breaking workouts, to night time relaxation routines to catch a wink amidst a heavy schedule, Amna knows everything she has done so far only amounts to tip of the iceberg awaiting. At this point, the only thing left to do is to utilize the strengths she has built to overcome the weaknesses she has yet to fix. Her courage and determination in the face of adversity serves as an inspiration, and reminds us that no matter where you come from in life, movement is the ideal catalyst to chase your dreams and create your own victory.
Follow Amna on her own website and social media pages: