Dubai: It's the challenge of ten hurdles along the track that made her pick the 400 metre hurdles as her event. And now, nearly three decades down the line, Moroccan legend Nawal Al Mutawakel finds there is no dearth of challenges off the track.
"For me it is all about PMA… that stands for "positive mental attitude," Al Mutawakel told Gulf News on the sidelines of the Dubai Sports Council-organised (DSC) symposium as part of the Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Creative Sports Awards here last week.
"I chose the 400m hurdles as the event constitutes a lesson in life. For me it is a school of life. There are ten hurdles around one track and you learn to get over each of these during the course of the race. Sometimes you fall, but you pick yourself up, dust yourself and continue running this circle [of life]," she said.
"In life, challenges are always there. You never find a red carpet waiting for you."
Born on April 15, 1962 in Casablanca, Al Mutawakel won the inaugural women's 400m hurdles at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games, thereby becoming the first female Muslim born in Africa to become an Olympic champion.
She is also the first Moroccan and the first woman from a Muslim majority country to win an Olympic gold medal.
"I stopped competing at a very young age of 24 because I wanted to be the spokespersons of all our Muslim girls, Arab girls and girls from developing nations who can change and feel the joy of running, and enjoying and feel the glory of participating. And I said to myself: If I can do it then anyone can do it. Impossible does not exist. For me, zero to hero is something that is always possible," she said.
Her next goal was the world of male-dominated athletics administration — a place where she thought she could make the difference by being the voice of women in particular. "It was a different world full of challenges — namely male-dominated organisations.
The IAAF created in 1912 did not have women till 1995 (when she became the first one to be elected during elections held in Gothenburg). The IOC for so many decades did not have women. So I decided to compete, but differently and to try to promote women's participation in sports, but differently and positively," Al Mutawakel reflected.
"You go through a challenge and you think positive. I think I had to do it then, and today I have no regrets, just the happiness to see so many women all over the world coming in timidly in sports. But the important thing is that they are there. I am sure the future belongs to them. Like Fifa said "the future of Fifa is feminine", I believe that the future of sports will be feminine," she added.
"Sport empowers you, gives you the strength to always keep moving forward and the message that I always carry with me and around me is to insist on the values of sports. It teaches you determination, passion, love of everything that you do in your life. What sport taught me in my youth is helping me nowadays in my professional life as well."