Life & Style | People

Amna Al Haddad: I chose a fit life

Three years ago, Emirati Amna Al Haddad dragged herself out of her laziness and off her sofa to go for a solitary, miserable walk around Safa Park. Now she’s got her sights set on the 2016 Olympics

  • By Louisa Wilkins, Deputy Editor, Aquarius magazine
  • Published: 17:31 October 30, 2012
  • Aquarius

Amna Al Haddad
  • Image Credit: Supplied picture
  • “I’m proud that I’m taking part in changing people’s views about Emirati women and dispelling the misconceptions. It’s quite a responsibility”

“In November 2009, I was 20 years old and severely depressed. I was leading a very, very unhealthy lifestyle – being inactive for 16 hours per day and eating junk food on a regular basis. I had no self-esteem and fell into self-loathing. “One day, I’d just had enough and I decided to take the first step to fitness. I went for a walk around Safa Park. With each step I took, I sweated out every negative emotion and memory I had. I decided, ‘My fitness journey starts today’.

Getting into weights

“From 2007, I started going to the gym a little and getting the feel for it. But it wasn’t until that walk, in late 2009, that I started to train seriously in terms of programming, seeing results, and increasing the weight I was lifting. I started going to the gym in the morning before my university lectures, and would schedule my day around training. I researched weight training and found out about the benefits it has for both men and women, such as reducing body fat, increasing bone density, increasing confidence and more. It sounded interesting and different and I liked it as soon as I tried it.

“About 18 months after starting weight training, I was introduced to CrossFit and got into Olympic-style weightlifting. However, I didn’t practise the clean and jerk, or the snatch movements on a regular basis until October 2011. But I trained hard and, in May of this year, I participated in the Reebok CrossFit Games Asia in Korea. “I was struggling to find sponsors to go, but two Emiratis came forward and sponsored me. Without them I wouldn’t have been able to go, to represent the UAE, or to make history.

I am forever grateful for their support and belief in me. It was a proud moment for me personally, and for my country, as I was the first Emirati and GCC national to participate in that competition. After competing professionally, I decided to take up weightlifting as my full-time sport. “There is so much about the sport that I love... I love the way it feels to throw heavy weights overhead in a swift and quick movement. I love the way I feel after seeing myself progress – whether technically, or beating my personal records. The confidence I get from the sport and, most importantly, making the impossible possible. Put simply, weightlifting gives me a reason to wake up in the morning.

Support yourself

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“When I made the decision to get into fitness, it was totally by myself. My mum encouraged me to go to her gym, but my friends weren’t really sporty. I think they were surprised by my sudden passion for it, but they always came and supported me when they could and they still do. At first my parents were hesitant – it took a while to convince my mum that weightlifting doesn’t make women bulky. But now she is one of my biggest supporters, and both of my parents support me fully, even if they’re not very supportive of the sport I am in.

“As for the rest of the community, most people have been supportive. The fitness community has been great – they always send me their best wishes when a competition is coming up. Of course, there are a few who don’t really understand what I do and send me negative comments every now and then. But I don’t expect, or need, everyone to understand. I have learned that there will always be those who support you, and those who don’t – and what I decide to listen to is up to me. I encourage myself every day – no one can really encourage you to take matters of your health into your own hands but yourself.

Changing views

“When I first started it was for my own personal goals. I never saw myself changing people’s perspective of Emirati females. But now I am proud that I am taking part in changing people’s views about Emirati women and dispelling misconceptions. It’s quite a responsibility.
“I hope my story and journey encourages Emirati female athletes to take their sport to the next level. Sport teaches you determination, discipline, humbleness, teamwork and increases self-confidence in every aspect of a person’s life, be it personal, or professional. One of my long-term dreams is to help my generation of Emirati women take responsibility for their own health.

“And it’s not just about motivating Emirati women to take care of their health – women around the world think weightlifting will make them bulk up, but it’s not true. Women have ten times less testosterone, which is the hormone responsible for muscle building, than men do. This is not saying that women do not get strong by lifting weights – they do, but they get a leaner physique. I have dropped from 36 per cent body fat to about 16 per cent, purely through three years of strength training, with very, very little cardio. I currently weigh 50kg.

Highlights and goals

“There have been many highlights in my athletic journey so far, but the biggest one is realising how much I am capable of and how much more I have to learn. Emotionally, it’s been overwhelming. Sometimes I look in the mirror and realise how much I have achieved in such a small period of time. “There have also been hard times. Learning to accept the failures and see them as turning points for future successes isn’t easy. The hardest part was understanding that everything is mental. But if I went back in time, I would do it all again. “I don’t regret anything I have done so far.

I know that I have put 100 per cent into each competition, training programme and training session. That doesn’t always mean performing my best – it could simply mean making the best out of a bad day. When it’s hard, you have to remind yourself that a tough training session is just a tough training session – it’s temporary. But quitting is forever. “My current goal is simple: to compete in weightlifting at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

When my mother was watching the Olympics with me this year, she said, ‘I hope to see you walking with the UAE’s flag in four years time’. And I do, too. Pursuing dreams is hard – very hard. But if you really believe in something and you love it, you’ll make it happen. Perseverance is the key to success. And when it comes to pursuing your dreams, it’s about knowing how to accept and let go of the bad days and wake up the next day and start all over again. And it’s worth it because, at the end, the feeling of achieving your dream is invaluable.”

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