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Amna Al Haddad Tells Vogue: “Everyone Can be Their Own Role Model”

From left to right: Amna Al Qubaisi, Amna Al Haddad, Amal Murad, and Halah Alhamrani. Photographed by Francesco Scotti and styled by Celia-Jane Ukwenya for the January 2018 issue of Vogue Arabia

A boxer, a racing driver, a weight lifter, and a free runner… When it comes to inspiration for New Year‘s resolutions, these female trailblazers are anything but predictable. Forget princesses and fairytales – when it comes to real-life inspiration, women closer to home are proving to be the hardworking and determined female role models needed today. Four in particular are all frontrunners in fields that are stereotypically viewed as male-dominated: weight lifting, boxing, car-racing, and parkour. Juggling their personal lives with exhausting regimens and hectic schedules , these women are proof that tenacity and will power go a long way, says Vogue Arabia’s Alexandria Gouveia.

Here highlights Amna Al Haddad, 28, Emirati weight lifting champion and motivational speaker, from the January issue ahead of New Year’s Eve celebrations. Check back online to read the stories of the other three inspirational women throughout next week…

Al Haddad: “Everyone can be their own role model”

Photographed by Francesco Scotti and styled by Celia-Jane Ukwenya for the January 2018 issue of Vogue Arabia

Newspaper journalist Amna Al Haddad turned her passion for fitness into a full-time mission in 2012, when she became the first Arab woman to compete in the Reebok Crossfit Asia Regionals in Seoul, South Korea. The following year, she became the first competitive weight lifter from the Gulf to do so in a hijab. Despite these achievements, Al Haddad didn’t grow up wanting to be an athlete. “It was somewhat of an accident,” She says. “I didn’t even do any sports in my youth.” Being physically active saved her life, she believes: “During my teens I suffered from severe depression but one day, I decided to go for a walk to take charge of my physical and mental health. That decision changed my path.”

Al Haddad joined a gym and began exercising regularly, including weight training. The regimen empowered her. “My body did things I never knew it could. The more I got into it, the more I wanted to pursue something meaningful, to achieve something bigger than myself.”

Last year, she worked with Nike to create its Nike Pro Hijab. While she competes in her hijab, she wishes people would concentrate more on her achievements than on what she is wearing. ” I think there’s been too much focus on being a ‘hijabi’ athlete,” she says. “We are forgetting that an athlete is an athlete regardless of what they wear. A lot of cultural barriers and misconceptions are being defied when women do sports in the hijab, but an individual is beyond their clothes.”

Her hopes for the 2016 Rio Olympics were sadly dashed when an injury forces her to retire from competitive sports. While she couldn’t ultimately compete, she did qualify. “That was a huge honor. I had to shift direction for four years to focus on that goal, and to have achieved it showed what can be done with sheer determination and willpower. Even though I didn’t participate, I still consider my journey a success due to the shift it has brought to the pool of talent of Emirati female athletes.”

Her achievements have also nabbed her a spot on Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo Children’s book Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls – the only woman from the UAE featured. “It came as a huge surprise,” she says. “The best part was getting messages from mothers, fathers, and young kids telling me how much my story inspires them.”

She’s also writing her own book, to encourage a new generation of dreamers. “I want to share with people that they can become leaders in their own lives and not accept \no’ for an answer. Everyone can be their own role model.”

The January issue of Vogue Arabia is out on Jan 1st 2018.

Related Read: 9 women to applaud and watch in 2018

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