In conversation with Amna Al Haddad, who have been making UAE proud
What started out as a solution to get fit transformed into a lifestyle for Amna. Her love for weightlifting shone through and earned her a spot in the recent Rio Olympics 2016 after four years of training.
“When I first started my fitness journey, I was an unhappy person. I wanted to make a change. I was like, Amna you can do much more than this, you can be better than this, and that’s when things changed for me.” – Amna Al Haddad
“I did not grow up with the concept of sports in my life. I’ve had very little role models to look up to,” she says. “So being a weightlifter was a very unusual route for people in our country or in our region.”
Al Haddad became interested in sports in her late teens. She decided to make a change in her life, and that included eating properly and working out.
As a weightlifter for the UAE, Amna Al Haddad worked to break down barriers for women in sport.
Al Haddad laughs when asked if she had a lot of support in her newfound love for sport. She says weightlifting is often presumed to be a sport for men, and as a Muslim woman, her decision to participate resulted in accusations that she was not being modest.
While she was not fully supported in her foray into weightlifting, Al Haddad says there was a small group of people who believed in her and understood the broader implications of her sporting career.
“The path that I took, it was bigger than myself as an athlete, but it was one that was going to change the world,” she says.
“Being covered and competing was like some sort of dream.” She says her critics have a lack of understanding about the positive effect sports can have on a person’s physical and mental health.
“I think it’s all a misconception or lack of awareness, and lack of education about what sports actually does for a person, and how it can actually have them develop their sense of confidence, self-esteem and physical health,” explains Al Haddad.
She says weightlifting is a very empowering sport and that it helped her through a dark period in her life. Al Haddad spent four years competing as a weightlifter with the UAE team. In that time, she won six world gold medals.
“It was something that was not very common. And it got a lot of traction because, ‘Oh, she’s a woman, she’s covered, she’s Muslim, she’s doing weights’,” she says. “Everyone was just like, ‘Whoa!'”
After breaking down barriers for Muslim women and women everywhere, Al Haddad has now retired from sports. But she hopes she has paved the way for more women to follow their dreams.
“It was an interesting time to show the world that … you could be someone who holds onto your faith and still pursue your passions.”