Keen to carry UAE’s Olympic hopes
Female weightlifter eyes Rio Olympics
“Women are capable of achieving anything they set their mind to - be it in sports or any field.” This statement provides a glimpse into the mindset of Amna Al Haddad, who four years ago gave up a successful career in journalism to pursue an Olympic dream.
That dream became an obsession, with the UAE national dedicating her life to the sport of weightlifting.
While it may seem a somewhat unlikely vocation, Al Haddad is determined to pave the way for more Arab women to compete on the global stage.
“Weightlifting is definitely not a common sport associated with women, but it's truly a beautiful sport,” Al Haddad told 7DAYS.
“It has opened doors for me and I hope it can create a surge of women pursuing strength sports in the Arab world.
“Having someone say that I inspired them, even more so hijabi athletes, is gold.”
Al Haddad’s own route into the sport was far from straightforward. There was no great love for fitness at an early age, instead her time was spent studying and gaining a degree.
At 19 she decided to start living a healthier lifestyle. She cut out fatty foods and began to run around Safa Park.
But it was not until the age of 21 that there was a sudden shift thanks to a new-found passion for CrossFit. This would set Al Haddad on a path that she hopes will lead to Rio de Janeiro this summer.
“At 21 I decided to compete in CrossFit and I went on to become the first Arab woman to compete at CrossFit Asia 2012,” explains Al Haddad.
“Then after returning I was in awe of Olympic weightlifting and I wanted to work on it day in and day out. I decided to put a huge goal ahead of me - the Rio Olympics - and do what I can to reach my goal.
“Throughout the process, I realised what it takes to become an elite weightlifter - I wasn’t really in the best position. I started at the age of 22, not 12.
“At the beginning of my career, infrastructure wasn’t fully provided either and I had to quit my job to pursue sport full-time.
“It wasn’t easy as there is a very low participation rate for women from the UAE at the Olympic level.” Like any elite level athlete dreaming of an Olympic berth, the 26-year-old has had to make a number of sacrifices.
Perhaps the toughest was choosing to leave behind her family in order to train in the United States.
Having struggled to receive the necessary support in the UAE, Al Haddad moved to America last year in order to fully commit to the sport.
“It was an exciting opportunity and it has been truly a wonderful experience, and a much-needed one,” she adds. “It has had a great impact on my technique and performance. A few months after moving I won nine medals - six gold and three silver - at the IWF Asian Interclub Championships in Jordan.”
That success provided Al Haddad with even more drive and determination. But with little to no support coming from the UAE, she was forced to turn to crowdfunding in order keep her Olympic dream alive.
“I ran the campaign during the month of January to raise funds for training and the upcoming qualifiers in April,” says Al Haddad.
“The campaign was successful, but it was merely raising a certain amount of the funds required. Finding continuous support in these last three-and-ahalf years has been a challenge and a struggle.
“In fact I am still seeking financial backing from the UAE.”
Even without the support of her home nation, Al Haddad is edging closer to securing an Olympic berth.
She hopes to confirm her place in Rio with a strong showing at the Asian Championships taking place next month in Uzbekistan.
This is where she hopes the sacrifices and years of intense training pays-off. It may have been a lonely journey at times but Al Haddad admits she would like her story to show young Emiratis than anything is possible with hard work and dedication.
“Representing my country at the Olympics would be a dream come true - all my hard work, struggles and challenges would be recognised,” she adds.
“And also it would show that women in the UAE are capable of being brilliant in sports. “Having said that, I have dealt with many challenges along the way that have hindered my progress in these last three and a half years.
“So although I am keeping my faith for the Rio Games, whether I do make it or not come August, I know my journey has been bigger than just me.
“I have achieved global milestones that had an impact on thousands of people so I’ll take that any day over six minutes of competing on a worldwide stage.”
Al Haddad has come a long way since the days of slow jogs around Safa Park. By next month she will know whether she will be an Olympian.
It may have been a tough journey, but it is one that could help to inspire an entire generation.
“Weightlifting is definitely not a common sport associated with women, but it’s truly a beautiful sport.” – AMNA AL HADDAD