Emirati professional CrossFit athlete Shaikha Al Qassemi chats to about her mission to improve the health of the UAE’s women…
How did you first become involved in CrossFit?
I started CrossFit in early 2013, when I basically did my first competition and got hooked. CrossFit is all about performing functional movements that are varied at high intensity. It is a core strength and conditioning programme that can be scaled for all levels.
Had you been active before you took up the sport? What was different about CrossFit that appealed so much?
Yes, I was physically active, however I wasn’t consistent with it. I was doing what I needed to do to be fit. But CrossFit is constantly different every time I walk into the gym, and that was the most appealing to me.
How has your success in competition been received locally?
The response has been very supportive and motivating! I’m always pushed to be a better athlete and role model by the community.
You now campaign on health and wellbeing issues. How does it feel to be a role model?
It feels great! I understand that people in this region need the right understanding and knowledge of health and wellbeing as well as fitness, especially the women. Since the start of my journey, I have expanded my knowledge to be able to give back.
Have you noticed a change in the number and background of ladies taking your classes recently?
I have noticed a significant response. When CrossFit first made its debut in the UAE, girls were not as comfortable and encouraged as they are now to join classes, lift weights and go harder in workouts. Now, they’re much more well informed of how being fit and healthy is essential to everyday life.
The UAE has very high incidences of obesity and diabetes. What do you think needs to be done to change that and do you feel you can play a role?
Change needs to start at schools. Kids and teenagers spend most of their hours on weekdays at their schools or universities, so it’s important to get them moving at least one hour a day, three times a week, and also provide the right food choices for them to commit to a healthier and fitter lifestyle. My responsibility is reaching the younger demographic and educating them on how to change their lifestyles, because they are more accustomed to change than the older generations. As the younger generations grow up, they’ll have the confidence to make a change with the older generations.
How big a role does diet play in your success and what message do you try to give your followers about nutrition?
My nutrition is as important as training, if not more important. My body needs to have the energy to sustain the hours of training that I put in throughout the week, as well as the nutrients and vitamins to help my body recover from training. Eating well is imperative.
What is your ultimate aim, both on a competative level and in your role as a campaigner?
At a competition level, my aim is to get better every year that I compete and continuously inspire people through my efforts. My aim this year is also to educate the community on health, fitness and wellbeing.
Shaikha, pictured at a Roberto Cavalli Gym event during DSF