Keen to carry UAE’s Olympic hopes

Fe­male weightlifter eyes Rio Olympics

7 Days in Dubai - - FRONT PAGE - By Adrian Back @aidy­back adrian@7days.ae

“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

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