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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 September 2018

Emirati Women's Day: Follow the less trodden path, women tell forum

Women who have made career changes to do something they love or have fought adversity tell their stories ahead of Emirati Women's Day

From left,  Sara Al Madani, Amal Murad and Abeer Al Khaja told their stories ahead of Emirati Women's Day. Chris Whiteoak / The National
From left, Sara Al Madani, Amal Murad and Abeer Al Khaja told their stories ahead of Emirati Women's Day. Chris Whiteoak / The National

Break stereotypes, explore unconventional paths, learn from failure and push through adversity; this is the advice fitness trainers and women entrepreneurs were offering ahead of Emirati Women’s Day.

One of the speakers at the women’s day forum on Sunday was parkour instructor Amal Murad, the first Emirati to do what she does and a woman who has taken risks to follow her dreams. Only last week she gave up her job as a graphic designer to focus on training others in parkour, a training regime that incorporates running, jumping, vaulting and other movements.

She broke two bones in her left forearm due to a freak injury when she slipped five months ago but instead of taking a step back, it convinced Ms Murad that she needed to stop playing it safe in her professional life.

“It’s never too early to follow your dream,” said Ms Murad, who posts parkour videos on her Instagram feed @leap.of.hope.

“We should not tie our capabilities to the money we make or a managerial position we may hold; this is not what makes us stronger.

“The accident was not caused by parkour but I believe it was God testing my will. Instead of making me worried, it has made me want to work that much more to get stronger.

“I have decided to pursue what is less conventional. I realised I need to follow what I love. I always thought I needed my day job in graphic design to sustain me but that is only because I didn’t give myself fully to fitness.”

Ms Murad features in a Nike ad, What Will They Say About You, released earlier this year that brings up a question young Arab women are often asked when they opt for something that is different.

She initially began by convincing her parents and a cousin, who owns the Gravity Calisthenics Gym in Dubai, that women would be interested in the challenge.

“There is interest and people are willing to explore. People underestimate parkour. It’s a full body exercise using your core upper body and the explosiveness of your legs,” said Ms Murad who trains women and children.

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“You get much stronger in every aspect, not just in jumping, climbing, getting on top of boxes and leaping over things, all of which requires strength. But it requires more mental than physical strength because you have to really commit to everything you do.”

Emirati Abeer Al Khaja told the women gathered at du headquarters ahead of Emirati Women’s Day on Monday that it was never too late to get fit.

Ms Al Khaja has moved from being an analyst in the airline industry to being a Crossfit trainer. She also started a running club for women who meet weekly for long-distance runs. Information about sessions is posted on the group's Instagram account @Anagowrunning.

“Women must surround themselves with people who care and are encouraging or motivational. I like to tell all girls that they need to go to the gym, swim, run and not just study. I ask women to be active and not sit at the desk all day,” she said. “They must be responsible for their own health.”

Others like Emirati fashion designer Sara Al Madani spoke about picking themselves up from financial ruin.

In the industry for 16 years, she was shaken when a partnership went wrong and she received a call about a bounced cheque four years ago.

“I lost everything I had in the bank but failure did not break me. I became stronger instead of entering into a depression,” said Ms Al Madani, who had to pay Dh700,000 in rent for three shops and staff salaries the year that her business was wiped out. “I’m passionate about my business so I worked hard and found ways to overcome the challenges.”

A member of the Sharjah Chamber of Commerce and Industry, she now runs three successful stores that sell abayas and recently opened a restaurant.

"I like to tell women that they need to believe in their dream and that it is OK to fail,” she said. “Yes, they should not just get into business with friends or family but get a lawyer to draft agreements and contracts. Financial planning will come but to believe in your dream is the hardest.”

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