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Athlete and face of Nike Pro Hijab
Q&A with Amna Al Haddad
The third in a series of three interviews, the Design Museum speaks to elite athlete, Amna Al Haddad about how Beazley Design of the Year Fashion nominee, the Nike Pro Hijab, has impacted on her career.
How did you become a weightlifter?
My journey into sports was somewhat of an accident. I was never an athlete growing up or did any sports in my youth. During my teens I suffered severe depression, and being physically active saved my life. One day, I decided to go for a walk to take charge of my physical and mental health, and that walk changed the course of my life. I joined a gym to exercise and started to lift weights as part of my routine. I never have felt so empowered and strong! My body did things that I never knew it could. The more I got into it, the more I wanted to pursue something more meaningful, to achieve something bigger than myself. So, I stumbled across Crossfit, where I had my first experience as an athlete. Through Crossfit, there many barriers broken where my participation was the first as GCC national – for both men and women. Realizing the under representation of women in such sports, I made a four-year goal to pursue the Olympics as a weightlifter.
Do you think the Nike Pro Hijab provides more choice and freedom for female athletes to wear what they like?
Absolutely. Women have the right to choose what to wear as athletes, and religious beliefs should never be a barrier to pursuing sports. When Nike and I had the conversation about the sports hijab, it was very ground-breaking and exciting for me to have helped with the design and give feedback regarding the needs from my perspective a Muslim female athlete that used headcover. Such move from Nike shows what truly inclusion is and that sports is for everybody; and what they wear, they come from, political views, beliefs, skin color are not a barrier to a person pursuing sports, and it should never be. I can’t wait for the day when we stop looking at the outside, and focus on the human spirit and their talent.
Tell us about your global campaign with Nike, “Inner Strength”?
I was so thrilled when Nike said I will be featured as the first global woman to take part in their Inner Strength series documentary. It was and to date, one my favourite video shoots I have ever done because every part of it was real. The lines in my face, the pain, the fear, the laughter, the way I expressed myself. It was empowering for me to take part to show a woman from the Middle East can reach such heights and creates history from the Middle East and there is no limitation except for the ones we put in front of us.
What are the current challenges you have faced as a Muslim woman in sport?
I would say its creating a shift in the mindset of people that women in general can do what men do in terms of sporting activities and my religion and faith have nothing to do with my success and sport choices. There’s been a lot of focus on what Muslim women wear in sports in the last few years as if it’s associated with our talent or success. It is a battle to create that change around what people deem as normal. I can’t wait for the day when people learn to respect one another regardless of faith, gender, and ethnicity, but focus on what difference they are making in this world through positive action and their talent.
You made history by being the first Emirati and GCC national to compete in the Asia Regionals and the first and only Muslim woman to do so in a headscarf. How did you manage to defy the initial obstacles you faced?
I just kept going. And didn’t listen to the nay-sayers. I focused on my goals and what I wanted to achieve regardless of any obstacles that came my way.
What’s your biggest achievement?
There is so much focus on achieving that we forgot to appreciate the process of the goals we achieve. The psychology behind achievement has left many feel unsuccessful in life or unworthy as a result. As such, I will not pin point a specific goal achieved as my biggest, instead I would say my continuous efforts to make a world a better place through different means and fields day in and out is what I consider an achievement. Not one specific goal.
What’s your ultimate goal?
To empower, inspire and educate others to become leaders of their own life and realities and not accept “no” for an answer, through writing, speaking, and educational programs.
What advice do you have for young female athletes wanting to get involved in sports but facing challenges?
Challenges are what make you. Not having privilege. During the process, it hurts, it’s confusing, you’ll want to give up and walk away. In fact, people may stop supporting you, stop showing up for you, but don’t you ever, ever stop showing up for yourself. That will be your glory, that will be the story you will share with your generation that will empower them in their own pursuits, sports or otherwise. Keep going!