If you ever needed the motivation to just try something new — whatever your age and skill level — take inspiration from Shaikha Maitha Bint Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum.
Shaikha Maitha, daughter of His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, is sitting with tabloid! by the side of a polo field on a cool Dubai evening, having just led her UAE women’s polo team to victory — twice in one afternoon — at the Ralph Lauren International Ladies Tournament. The thing is, the 34-year-old only started playing polo three years ago.
“I know!” she says with a laugh. “It’s not the right way to do things — you usually do it when you’re young.” It’s her have-a-go attitude that comes across more than anything, although if you ask her if that’s her life philosophy, she’ll agree — then tell you she’s actually “lazy”.
So what should the rest of us know about taking a shot at something new, challenging, different? Stick with it, says Shaikha Maitha — and take inspiration from others.
“Once I commit, I do commit, I don’t quit, I try to see it out. I like working hard, I like earning the little credits that I get here and there. Also I am surrounded by people who are really high achievers and competitive. By nature I am quite lazy, so to have that group of people around me, it spurs me on.”
This late-blooming success is not exactly unprecedented in the life of the daughter of Dubai’s ruling family. She took up karate at 20, winning medals at the Asian Games, and became the first woman to represent the UAE at the Olympic Games where she competed in the 67kg taekwondo event in Beijing in 2008.
“I got into these sports because of riding injuries,” she says of martial arts, “and I had to do something else. It’s funny because I started off in riding, used martial arts to rehab, continued in martial arts, got injured in martial arts, then used riding to rehab. It’s just come full circle. You just keep going.”
She’s still in her pink team polo shirt, designed by Ralph Lauren for the tournament (now in its second year), having minutes before dismounted her polo pony and gathered her team together for a few photos. They will play in the finals today.
Nearby, the UAE team — Argentina’s Marianela Castagnola and US polo legend Sunny Hale — congratulate each other, and as we talk, a pitbull with a hot pink collar joins us. “He’s not mine,” she says. “But he owns me. He thinks he owns all of us.” Her own pet is also present — a seemingly well-behaved goat that was given to her by a cousin. “She’s there. We keep apologising to people, she’s there, she’s our first experience. She’s very famous.”
If you’re wondering about the daily life of a member of Dubai’s ruling family, Shaikha Maitha has a chuckle, and two words for you: Sports rehab.
“Honestly, it’s just basically rehabing old injuries, trying to keep up with this lifestyle,” she says when I prod for some insight into a typical day. “I am still adamant that I have a gold medal in me so I am trying to achieve that, that keeps me going.”
Excerpts from our interview:
You are in the public eye as a member of the Dubai ruling family. How do you feel about your role?
It’s a lot of pressure because you want to represent, first of all I want to represent my family, my country, the title. If I can inspire someone and motivate someone, that’s basically the kind of role I like to take — the role of big sister, encouraging and nurturing. That’s been basically my attitude towards the youth and trying to be there for them.
What are your thoughts on the Dubai Expo 2020?
It’s incredible. That’s what I mean, you’re part of this country, everyone is like, “we want to be number one, we want the biggest, the best,” that’s the culture you’re part of, you are trying to always keep up with that standard. It keeps you on your toes. I don’t know of any other country with these many nationalities getting along, and you can learn so much in a small city.
This event has some of the top female polo players in the world. Do you think increasing women’s participation in sport is a challenge?
That’s the problem, women get married, have babies, so it’s hard, especially for a pro athlete, to continue to be successful, because it does take time. Life happens. I do agree.
Especially in polo, women ride well, the technique, the strength that comes ... definitely you will see more women in [polo], but like anything it will take time. But for sure I can see more girls involved in polo than boys. Girls love ponies.
What would you like to do next?
I miss the martial arts, I do, I wish I could get back. I don’t think it’s a smart thing to do, but I do miss it.
This tournament is raising funds for Dubai Cares. What about the charity is close to your heart?
What I like about Dubai Cares especially, it’s very transparent, you know where the funds are going. It’s creating an environment for kids to be educated — they have food, water, shelter. I like how it’s complete ... not just helping one area, giving them a base to build from. We’ve visited a few countries, and from the start, from the initial concept of this charity to date they have just done so much and we are really proud of that.
What are your hobbies?
Mainly now it’s sports, it takes most of my time, because it takes a lot of dedication and long hours. I like [my] work with Dubai Cares and [my] family time; as a family we have a lot of activities together.
What’s your message to our readers?
Anything’s possible. If Dubai teaches you anything [it’s that] anything is possible, if you can dream it. Just give it a go.
Top women's polo players in Dubai
The Ralph Lauren International Ladies Tournament, which has its finals today, features some of the world’s top female players, a significant achievement, says Shaikha Maitha, who leads the UAE team against North-America and Europe. Players include the world number one Nina Clarkin and women’s polo legend Sunny Hale.
“It makes a huge difference when you have two pros on the team and we had the best line-up in women’s pro polo on the field. It’s the first time that Sunny and Nina ever met, because they are two of biggest names in polo — Sunny was the pioneer and Nina is awesome ... to have them both here ... you know in Dubai we like to do things big and I think we did it this time,” says Shaikha Maitha.
Last year’s inaugural tournament was “kind of a testing ground”.
“This year they wanted to make it a little bit smaller but more of a higher goal. The thing that’s happening on Saturday, 27 girls, it’s never been done. To be part of it, feels like such an honour. Just to be considered among that.”