Next on our series of Olympians is 26-year-old weightlifting champion, Amna Al Haddad, who started her sporting career five years ago. Haddad didn’t know what was coming when she set eyes on the Olympics, but after years of tenacity and hard work she earned the female national team one platform quota.
How did you discover your passion for weightlifting?
In 2011 I started Crossfit training, which is a mix of endurance, gymnastics and weightlifting. I knew that I wasn’t going anywhere in Crossfit because I didn’t have enough endurance to pursue it professionally, so I decided to focus on a sport that I knew I could be so much better at – Olympic weightlifting was the sport for me.
What is your favorite thing about weightlifting?
Weightlifting is a very frustrating sport, which is exactly why I kept going back to it… because I wanted to conquer the sport. I enjoy the way the weights and bar move with me; it’s such a dynamic and powerful movement. When I first started out, I was told “you touch the bar like a true weightlifter,” and that kind of sealed the deal.
Where is your favorite place to train?
I haven’t found my go-to place to train yet, and that is why I created a small space at my house to train freely. All I really need is a platform, squat rack, barbells and plates. My little gym is my safe haven. The weightlifting federation is my second home, where the female national weightlifting team trains, even though it’s a super tiny place.
As a hijabi female weightlifter, what kind of support did you get?
I used to work as a journalist before becoming a full-time athlete, so I was not really allowed to be on media and talk about my passion and gain support. I didn’t let that stop me, I found different ways to approach people and I might have contacted over 50 sponsors to look into my work. Four international companies currently sponsor me including Nike, and that is big for an Arab female weightlifter let alone hijabi.
Was there any point in your career where you felt like quitting?
Developing a lumbar herniated disc in my back is possibly the worst thing to happen. I’m not entirely sure how I developed my injury, but I suppose it was due to the repetitive movements I had to undergo without being able to do physiotherapy in between to recover. Six months ago, doctors told me that if I continued training like a competitor, I would have a problem for the rest of my lifting career. But with the Asian Qualifiers coming up, I said to myself… “Amna, one last time.”
What is your training schedule like?
In terms of training, I focus a lot on strength training in morning and the more dynamic movements in the afternoon – and in between, I would sleep, rest and eat. This is the kind of training I need to recover but also see progress. There will be periods of time where I train five days a week for an hour, other times I’d train up to five hours a day. It depends mostly on a competition coming up, recovering from an injury, or whatnot.
How did you hear about the team’s Olympic candidacy?
We were competing at the Asian Qualifiers as the female national team, which is an achievement in itself. We needed to rank in the first six teams to be able to qualify for Rio, but sadly we lost by two points and ranked seventh. We were told that the results were not conclusive until all anti-doping results were in, and after 8 weeks of patiently waiting, we found out that we actually ranked fourth due to some teams testing positive. This is only the second time the UAE has sent an athlete to compete in Olympic lifting, so this is major for us.
How does this pave the way for Emirati female athletes?
I believe that when people see someone, average or otherwise, who has defied all odds and was able to reach somewhere, it gives them hope. For me, it was about challenging myself and seeing how far I can go in the sport, and I was very honest with myself in regards to age and ability. But five years later, I can say that I did it.
What do you think is your job towards your country as an athlete?
To be a sports educator. There are plenty of facilities available, but if you can’t develop individuals within those facilities then you will fall short in developing sports education in the country. I’ve taken it upon myself to spread awareness on sports by giving talks to share my experience and to educate people on how they can overcome issues of their own.
What’s your advice to those who aim for the Olympics?
I know that there are a lot of women out there that are afraid to pursue sports because of what society might say, and I want to tell them that I have been in your shoes. I wasn’t able to represent the country internationally without undergoing a lot of rejection, if anything I used the negative comments to fuel my drive. Don’t be afraid to pursue your passion, you have to really want something to make it happen.