At 22 she became the first woman from the United Arab Emirates to compete in the Reebok CrossFit Games Open. Later that year she became the first woman from her country to compete at the Asia Regionals. Not only was she the first woman, but the only Muslim woman do so in a headscarf. At 23, she competed in her Arnold Weightlifting Competition where she was the first person, male or female to compete from the UAE.
Now, Amna Al Haddad is about to turn 26 and has her eyes set on the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio. Amna’s accomplishments speak for themselves as she inspires women from around the world to break down the barriers that stand in their way from doing what they love. We caught up with her to hear more about why she choose Olympic Weightlifting.
1. How did you get into weightlifting?
I got into professional Olympic weightlifting in late 2012, after a year in Crossfit and competing at the Asia Regionals in Seoul, South Korea. I first started my fitness journey in 2009 when I was suffering from an unhealthy lifestyle, and was doing bodybuilding exercises and sprints to drop body fat and be fit. Then I got involved in Crossfit and since then fell in love with weightlifting.
2. Why do you lift?
It’s honestly a love-hate relationship. I am stubborn, and when I find something that challenges me, I don’t want to walk away from it until I have achieved what I want from it personally. For me, since I started weightlifting, it has helped me in my personal growth more than the PRs I’ve got; and as long as I can keep growing because of this sport, I will continue pursuing it full-time.
3. Why should women lift weights? What changes have you seen in yourself?
Lifting weights in general has many benefits, such as increasing bone density, reducing bodyfat, being lean, having a great physique and many “physical” benefits — Hello carrying five grocery bags in one hand! However, there are also emotional benefits, such as increase in self-confidence and self-esteem among others. For me, I have changed in a number of ways: I have put quite a few kilos on muscle mass, which I absolutely love, I have grown as an individual and dealt with my adversity as a result of the sport, and it has helped me keep pushing despite the struggles — either physical, mental, or emotional. I have grown spiritually as well, as I have to look inwards often for reflection since I started weightlifting.
4. What challenges have you dealt with in the sport?
Some of the challenges I have dealt with come in various levels.
Physical — I started the sport late (at 22) and I did not have the flexibility for the sport. I also learned the wrong technique pattern for a long time. I moved to the United States last year in August 2014 and started truly receiving rigorous technical training and had to start from scratch again. So the challenge for me is lifting heavier with the right technique and that’s where reps come into play. Thousands of them (good ones!)
Support — At first, people were skeptical of what I was doing. I quit my job as a full-time journalist to pursue the sport, so covering my financial requirements was a struggle at first. As time as gone by, I persisted, competed and have recently won 6 gold medals and 3 silver at IWF Asian Inter-Club Championships in Jordan this past April. With recognition, I started getting more acceptance. PurePharma has been a great supporter since the beginning of last year and I am so ever grateful for the continuous support.
Mental — Without a doubt, the sport of weightlifting is 90% mental and this is still a work in progress. It easy to get frustrated when PRs stop coming your way, for as long as a year at a time. It’s the nature of the beast, but the important thing is not to get discouraged and look back at my progress and achievements, and then keep working until today is my reference point next time. You just keep going. One day at a time. One lift at a time. One breath at a time.
5. What are your plans/goals for the future?
My dream has been to compete at the Olympics in 2016, but since training did not go as planned or anticipated, I am still keeping my eyes on 2016 and 2020. I am planning, with God’s will, that I will participate at the Continental Qualifier for the 2016 Olympics next year in April with the UAE team for a spot.