Interview with Amna S. Al Haddad from UAE

10362951_10154298934780438_22140724_nToday, I present you an interview with one of the few women lifter from UAE ( United Arab Emirates). She certainly is the first woman from UAE to compete internationally. She indeed competed at the 2014 Arnolds and at the 10th Woman Grand Prix in Austria. While she is relatively new to weightlifting, she has goals that she intends to reach. Her goal is to compete at the Olympics, where she would actually be the first woman from UAE to do so. Her story is one of women empowerment, struggle and perseverance.

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My own journey with First Pull has allowed me to be in touch with athletes and coaches from all over the world. I really like to know about how weightlifting is developing world wide. I must admit that this is the first time I get to ask questions about the UAE’s weightlifting scene (and I don’t know much about it), so thank you very much. What brought you to weightlifting?

First of all, I want to thank you for the opportunity to be featured in First Pull. I absolutely love your website, your researched content and interviews with weightlifters from all over the world.

What brought me to weightlifting is my decision a few years ago to fight my unhealthy habits and depression. I started my journey with just going to the gym, trying all different kind of workouts from bodybuilding to sprinting. However one day in 2011, I saw an Ad about something called “crossfit” . I went to one of the oldest boxes in Dubai, and gave it a go. I loved the competitive aspect of Crossfit, and I immersed myself into it for a year until I have competed in the Asia Regionals in 2012 as part of a team. After Regionals, I had to make a decision — I had fell in love with Olympic weightlifting and wanted to aim higher — but my technique was not good at all and by all means, I never had a natural athletic ability. I had an honest conversation with myself, and I decided to focus on weightlifting end of 2012 and aim for the Olympics.

 I think you learned about weightlifting through Crossfit.  How did you find out about Crossfit? Is the crossfit scene underground in your country? Do you still train in Crossfit or are you a dedicated lifter now?

Yes, I have. Crossfit has become actually quite popular in Dubai in the last couple of years; there are a lot of weekly local competitions in Crossfit between Games athletes that are based out of Dubai and some of the top 10 in Asia. I have stopped crossfit completely as I decided to focus on weightlifting end of 2012, with the thought it would give me enough time to prepare for the next Olympics in Rio 2016 through four years of focused training in the Olympic lifts.

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 So you switched to weightlifting. Tell me about the weightlifting scene in your country. How big is the scene? What about the facility and coaching? What about the support? What about competition?

The weightlifting scene as a sport in the UAE is still pretty young, but increasing in exposure, especially through crossfit. However, in my opinion, there is not one properly dedicated facility for just weightlifting, although there are a number of  gyms that have a couple of platforms, Eleiko or Pendlay Bars.   There are a few coaches in the UAE that were previous competitive lifters, but none that have coached athletes who competed internationally in weightlifting  as far as I know, except for the federation coaches who have done so.

In terms of support, I would say I have been campaigning day in and out for support toward the sport of weightlifting. As a result support is starting to slowly pick up  after two years of me trying to get the word out there. I am one of the few  Emirati women, if not the only individual,  campaigning to compete at the upcoming Olympics.  I am hoping this will cause a big change in the weightlifting scene in the UAE. As for competition, there have been some official weightlifting meets for the men’s team, but none for the women’s. Pyrros Dimas came to the Dubai last year in August, and a competition was held in the second day of the seminar, but I was the only woman competing.

Are there male or female national teams?

Yes, there are both a male and female national teams. However due to lack of funding and proper facilities, there were times where the female team have stopped training as a result. However they have resumed  again, and I join them a couple of weeks in their afterwork/school, while I do the rest of my programming and training by myself, as I take weightlifting as a profession and not as an additional activity.

I read that you train by yourself. Is it due to lack of coaches in your area or by choice? Who coaches you at competitions (or count your bars)?

I have not yet been able to find the right coach for me to take me to the level I want in the sport. I have had previous coaches who each helped me up to a certain point which I am very grateful for, but I have spent about a year out of the two in the sport training by myself, which has been a very big challenge and hoping that will change very soon. My big aim and goal is to train abroad with a team under a coaches supervision who’ve coached an international, worlds or an Olympian athlete, in a stable weightlifting environment to further improvement and reach a higher level in the sport.

In the last three competitions I’ve had, I have been lucky to get support from other athlete’s coaches to help me with counting bars and telling me when it’s time to make my lifts. The second hardest thing I have to do beside training by myself, is not have a coach with me at meets, especially since I am new to the sport and still inexperienced in the grand scheme of things.

Credit to respective photographer
Credit to respective photographer

 What are your training conditions like nowadays?

Since I started this journey, I never been in the right environment; and not to make an excuse, but it did hamper my progress, especially not having a consistent coach, training team/partner or environment. So, I currently train out of three different gyms in Dubai; an MMA gym, a crossfit gym, and at the Federation, trying to make the best out of each environment, as each has an aspect that works for me and have allowed to push in training as much as possible.

Last year’s focus was mainly on moving better, mobility, and techniques as I had learned the wrong movement patterns, and have taken a lot of time to fix those aspects. Now that I move better, I’m focusing on building strength so I can increase weights lifted in the Snatch and Clean and Jerk. I have 7 sessions a week; it includes 4 sessions working on strength, assistance exercises, lifts variations and 3 sessions doing the full Olympic lifts that are heavy but low in volume.

In 2011, the IWF ruled that Muslim women are allowed to compete in unitard, to cover all skin.  I think it was a very good decision, one that break frontiers and allows more people to compete in our great sport. How did you react to this news? How was this decision seen in your country?

I started competing in weightlifting as a result of this decision! It has truly changed my life and one other reason that made me decide to focus on weightlifting and take it a step further, and allowed me to compete covered in the USA and Europe. The decision is definitely welcomed in the UAE, as it encourages covered women to participate in sports and shows there are no barriers in sport and it truly unites people from all over the world.

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 How is it seen to be a woman lifter in UAE?

It is a challenge! It is well known that weightlifting is perceived as a man’s sport, not just here in the UAE but worldwide, however, I think people are slowly accepting that woman can be strong and still be feminine and weightlifting doesn’t make us “bulky,” or “manly.” Despite those misconceptions and challenges, I would say that I have received a lot of support for what I am doing, as it is opening a door toward women empowerment and  shows signs of progressiveness.

 You are still relatively new to weightlifting, but you are very passionate about weightlifting. Have you ever thought about opening a facility to develop the weightlifting scene in your city? Obviously, getting juniors involved would be great a great start.

Yes I am very new to weightlifting, and in some ways, that’s the beauty of it. I am trying to figure out all the A-Z of training, to qualifications, Olympics, needs of a weightlifter, so on and so forth. It has always been my passion to open a gym in the past, but I wanted to pursue sports full-time before I do so. How can I provide the best facility without having experienced being an athlete myself? I think my struggles pursuing professional sport in the UAE goes beyond just for me an athlete, but I am really looking forward to build something in the UAE in the future for professional sport development.

 Many countries have strong male team but no female teams. What do you think of countries that don’t have women weightlifting teams due to religious/societal beliefs?

The UAE is the only country that is part of the GCC that has a female weightlifting team currently. I think it’s a matter of changing perceptions and creating equal opportunity for men and women alike in sports. Sports is beneficial to a 5 year old, a 15 year old, a 25 year old, or a 70 year old; man or woman; from all ethnic groups and all religions. Sports creates peace, sportsmanship, humbleness, respect, and truly unites nations. In other words, I think it would be a matter of time before all countries end up having female weightlifting teams as the sport grows, and more women start lifting. Mind you, only in 2000 women were allowed to compete in weightlifting at the Olympics; and in 2011 for women to compete covered in a unitard — these are stepping stones in the sport of weightlifting toward something bigger I believe!

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 What are your goals for this year?

My main goal is to go training abroad prior to the IWF World Championships, Olympic Qualifications in Kazakhstan. I truly think that this will be the biggest step forward I can take in the sport of weightlifting in terms of progress. I am working on a plan to do so and hopefully I will get the chance to go for a camp to prepare for the event. I don’t expect miracles in terms of my total for the first round of qualifications, but I do expect a big improvement from my current numbers if I were to train supervised under proper programming and coaching. I am also looking at competing in the Asian Games, that are prior to Worlds, depending on a few factors.

 Any final words?

No matter what the challenges are, never give up or walk away from your dream. The more you persist, the closer you are going to get to your goals. When things get tough, just get tougher. The sport of weightlifting changed me a lot as a person, and I have no regrets  whatsoever chasing this dream despite starting late in the sport and I am very thankful for those who supported me so far throughout my journey. And whatever is it that you do, it’s your life, your business. Let those who talk, talk. That’s all they’re good at anyway.

FP edit : Here are her Facebook and Website

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Jean-Patrick Millette

Jean-Patrick Millette is a full time weightlifting coach located in Montreal, Canada. He has a bachelor in kinesiology. He coaches dedicated weightlifters of all ages (Youth to senior) as well as running the well respected First Pull website. He has been very active at promoting the sport of weightlifting.

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