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Al Haddad blazes a trail for Muslim women

Emirati weightlifter heads to Asian Championships with sights set on debut Olympic appearance

Gulf News

Dubai: Emirati weightlifter Amnah Al Haddad heads to Uzbekistan for the Asian Championships on April 25 to try and secure a place at this summer’s Olympics in Rio de Janiero, Brazil.

However, in a newly released Nike promotional video from the Inner Strength Series, she says participation is more important than qualification.

“It’s a journey, that’s the thing,” said the 26-year-old, who is not only the first Arab to be featured on the series by Nike but also the first woman. “It’s not just going to the Olympics or not. It’s more about learning about who you are, and how you can impact the world in a positive way and that’s what I want to focus on: Keep impacting the world in a positive way.”

Five years ago, Al Haddad, from Dubai, was a young journalist with an ambition to alter her unhealthy lifestyle and now she stands on the verge of a debut Olympic appearance.

Last year, she won six golds and three silvers at the International Weightlifting Federation Asian Interclub Championships in Jordan and was the first hijab-wearing competitor at the Arnold Weightlifting Championship in Ohio.

“I’m someone who broke a lot of barriers for Muslim women. There’s a lot of resistance, a lot of rejection, but when that happens you know you are tapping on something that is untouched and that is when you create a path for others. That’s what pushes me.

“Before all this, I was a very unhealthy person. I was depressed, and a few pounds overweight. Then there was a day where I was like, ‘You can do much more than this, you can be better than this’. So, I said to myself, ‘Go and do something. Go for a walk’. And that’s what I did. I went for a walk and that kind of changed my life.

“From there, I started going to the gym normally, and then I got into CrossFit, which changed my view of strength sports for women, and I just fell in love with weightlifting.”


Amna


During this time Al Haddad started looking for a good place to train.

“When I first got into competitive weightlifting, I never found the right environment or the right coach for me at the time. There were times where I would show up to training sessions and there was no one there, just me. These moments were really hard for me because I really wanted that environment where I could be with other athletes who are doing what I’m doing and feel the same way I do.”

It was a vacation to Alaska that led her to stay on in the US and explore better training opportunities there.

“I stayed an extra month in the US, exploring different areas and I really fell in love with Akron. It was so different than Dubai in every sense – the weather, the people, the atmosphere, the trees. I mean I live in a forest right now. That’s crazy.”

“My coach [in Akron] really pushed me to the point where I had to strip the bar down to zero just to be able to get my technique right. Moving to the States has been a game changer for me in the sense that I now have similar technique to those at Olympic level.”

Al Haddad’s journey hasn’t been without obstacles. A back injury last summer has slowed her progress, and her current goal is simply to qualify for this summers’ Olympics.

“I’m pretty hard on myself when I train because I always put such high expectations of what I can do versus what my body can do, and sometimes those two do not work together. You can go on six months doing the same thing over and over again: Smash, clean and jerk, back squat and whatnot. And you will hardly ever add one kilo to the bar. That is mentally devastating but you still push through it.”

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