Amna Al Haddad is a woman on a mission: to win a medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics. The Emirati weightlifter, who has just flagged off Nike's We Run DXB 10k event, is now taking a break from her training in the US as Buro 24/7 Middle East catches up with her to talk the Olympics, CrossFit and women in sports.
You've been weightlifting for more than three years. Are people still surprised at what you do?
Some still are and many say, 'It's not everyday I get to meet a weightlifter!' One of the most frustrating misconceptions people have is that weightlifting makes me manly. This comes from the idea that physically lifting weights seems like such a man thing to do. But if you must know, women have been able to break a lot of world records, more often than men. In fact, many of my coaches also tell me that women are actually better weightlifters because of how their body reacts to the training and also because of how our hips are structured.
You started out doing CrossFit. How did they help prepare you as a weightlifter?
Interestingly, I was the first Arab and Emirati to compete at the Asia Regionals CrossFit competition in South Korea. When it comes to CrossFit and weightlifting, each has its own methodologies. What's important is to find a good coach who cares about you as a person and someone who can push you correctly.
You're currently training in the US. Is it because of a lack of facilities here in the UAE?
Right now I'm training in Ohio in the US because I met a coach that I really liked working with. There was a time when the UAE team wasn't training because of a lack of facilities and I wanted to train in a group environment. A lot of gyms here have weightlifting platforms but lifting with weightlifters in a weightlifting-specific gym is something else altogether. The atmosphere and etiquette is very different.
The immediate goal now is the 2016 Rio Olympics. How are you getting on with the preparations?
That is the goal but right now I am nursing a back injury. The qualifiers are in April but there are no guarantees for until I get further conclusive tests done. Having said that, the whole idea of my Olympic journey is to inspire others through action. Even if I don't make it to Rio, we can move on because that's not the end journey. It's more about the process, seeing how you've improved. It's not just about achieving medals but more about empowering yourself. It's your journey with your own challenges so there really isn't a point comparing yourself to someone else. Be better than how you were and not how somebody else is.
What I do is not just weightlifting, it's about other women who also want to go out and pursue their dreams.
Women were only allowed to compete in weightlifting at the Olympics in 2000 not to mention allowing hijabi women to compete. Why do you think it took such a long time for the international community to come to that decision?
It's probably just because many still perceive it as unusual and different. Even now, hijabi women in sports isn't something that has been fully exposed to the world. But I want to show that you can still treasure your values and culture while still being able to be an athlete, train and then compete.
If you could spread a message to women in the region to inspire them, what would it be?
Just keep moving! A lot of times when we deal with challenges the most important thing is not to keep still but to keep moving. One step at a time; if you need to crawl, then crawl. When you have a goal that you want to achieve, make sure you see it through, regardless of whether you feel good or not.
Why do you think Nike chose you to flag off the NikeDXB event?
I think it's because over the past four years I've achieved a lot in terms of inspiring women and opening new roads for women in sports. I feel very honoured to be chosen because the Nike We Run DXB race is a huge thing. Although I will officially start the race, I will not be running it!