Amna Al Haddad, 23, is the first covered Emirati competitive weightlifter. At a recent forum in Dubai of the UAE chapter of 85 Broads, a US-founded global network of businesswomen, she spoke about choosing Olympic training over a career in journalism - she is a former reporter for The National.
How did you get interested in weightlifting?
My interest in weight training started in 2007. I took it up seriously in 2009. One day, I realised how much the sport gave me from confidence to losing body fat; and through that my interest in sport picked up. I started doing CrossFit in 2011, where I got my first experience in competitive sport. I was determined to do what it takes to compete at an international level. I was working as a full-time journalist at the time and then I competed at the CrossFit inter-regionals and I realised there was so much about being an athlete. It required discipline and determination. I came back from the competition and said: "That's it. I want to be an Olympic weightlifter."
How did your family respond?
My mum was concerned I would get bulky. But weightlifting is not bodybuilding. My mum has come to terms with the fact it's what I want to do and she has started accepting it. She is excited I am gaining new experiences in life. I can now lift 52 kilos but for the Olympics it's at least 100 kilos. I still have at least three-and-a-half years and I am already halfway with only six months of training.
How do you see yourself growing?
As well as training for the Olympics, I am building myself as a coach. One of the things I like to do is inspire women and teach them about the benefits of sport and how they can take charge of their lives and not just depend on others to take care of things for them. I would like to open a female-only gym in the future.
Do you have good support networks?
One of the biggest challenges is to find sponsors; to find someone who understands I am doing this for real. As a female weightlifter it's something uncommon. They are taking a bet by sponsoring me. But I am lucky enough to have found an individual sponsor, a businessman from Abu Dhabi.
Are there other Emirati women doing this?
They are a few but it's very hidden because no one wants to come out and talk about it because they are scared what the public will say. It's mostly behind closed doors. I have spoken at schools and universities to spread awareness about the benefits of any kind of sport.
Was it a challenge to find a way to compete while covered?
Women were only allowed to compete in the Olympics in weightlifting in 2000. In 2012, one woman defied the ban of wearing a hijab to compete [in weightlifting] while covered. Trying to find the right outfit to train; the right kind of hijab to wear - I feel like that's lacking here: Islamic sportswear. And that should really be looked into to support people like me who want to compete.