Qatar National Sport Day 2019
Ahead of her visit to Qatar for National Sport Day 2019, US Olympic medallist Ibtihaj Muhammad spoke with Q Life about the importance of sport and her own inspiring experience as an athlete.
Beyond fencing, Ibtihaj is an accomplished entrepreneur, activist and speaker, and a leading figure in the global discussion on gender equality and diversity – issues which Qatar has long sought to promote both at home and worldwide.
Why in your view is it important for people to come together and celebrate National Sport Day?
Sports help to build a stronger and healthier community. Sports are one of the few things that transcend socio-economic status and bring people together regardless of their background. It encourages people to get off their couches and exercise.
What inspired you to take up fencing for the first time at age 13?
My parents were looking for a sport for me to play where I would be covered and they would not have to alter the uniform because I wore a hijab. Fencing because of the long jack and pants was an opportunity to participate in a sport that uniquely accommodated my religious beliefs.
In your book Proud, published last July, you talk openly about the challenges you faced once within the Team USA setup. Can you tell us a little about some of these and how you overcame them?
So much of overcoming adversity and navigating various obstacles throughout my career is directly connected to my resilience. I’ve never allowed other people’s misconceptions about me or my community to define me. The idea that I wasn’t fit for elite sports because I wore hijab was silly to me. It was an opportunity to show not just the people within fencing, but more importantly all of us, what we’re capable of when we believe. It was important for me to show our youth that we are more than society’s limited expectations of us.
In your view, what does it mean to be an athlete in 2019?
Very simply, an athlete is any person who trains and works towards becoming better in their sport or physical exercise.
What message would you hope to convey to young aspiring athletes who see you as a role model?
It is my hope that they see themselves in my journey. There was a lot of blood, sweat, tears and hard work that went into achieving what I have, but none of it would have been possible without me placing my faith over my fears.
Having won an Olympic medal in Rio, do you aspire to win more? And beyond sport, what does the next chapter in life have in store for you?
I feel so blessed to have captured a bronze Olympic medal and feel content with what I have achieved in sport. I’m not sure what the future holds for me on a competitive sporting level, but I do hope to continue to use sport as a vehicle to reach people and change communities in meaningful ways.