Amna Al Haddad
Sports Pioneer from the Middle East

Blog hardtobeat

Published on April 9th, 2013 | by Amna Al Haddad


Reflection: What It Takes To Be An Athlete

I became an athlete by accident.


When my interest in weight training started in 2007, it was out of curiosity.

When my interest in strength training started in 2009, it was for empowering myself.

When my interest in crossfit started in 2011, it was finding out a competitive side in me.

When my interest in Olympic Weightlifting was solidified in 2012, was because I found something that challenges me the most, physically, emotionally, and mentally.

Here I am 2013, a competitive Olympic Weightlifter.

How did that happen? *Looks to the right and left and shrugs*

I never planned to be an athlete. I studied journalism at university. All of my part-time jobs pre-graduation were in newspapers, media and marketing. I graduated and worked for a leading English newspaper in the UAE in 2011.

Ok. I don’t want to bore you with my history, but it’s part of my story, who I am  – It’s part of my story of how I became an athlete.

The day I decided I want to be a competitive athlete was in October 2011. I approached one of my bosses and said: “I don’t think I can balance work with training anymore and it wasn’t right for me to stay in my job as a full-time news reporter.”

We talked and reached a middle-ground and I stayed in my job a while longer. Until May where I competed in the 2012 Crossfit Asia Regionals.

When I came back from the competition. I knew.

For many reasons, I just had to quit.

The way I lived my life was a life of an athlete leading to the competition. All I thought of was – what I will eat, when I should eat, going to bed to get my 8 hours of sleep, how’s my energy to perform on a particular day, what PB’s I will hit and what have you.

But realistically (fast forward today), is not all that makes an athlete, but it was part of it.

Came back to Dubai after the Crossfit Competition. Come June, no longer a full-time journalist (currently freelance sport journalist btw.)

October 2012 was when I said, that’s it. No more Crossfit as my main sport.

I quit it…

…To focus on what I really fell in love with.

Olympic Weightlifting.

Now. Now I am learning what it takes to be an athlete. Evey decision I made took me further out of my comfort zone, every time I decided to quit something, it wasn’t because I’ve given up, but because I wanted more for myself as an athlete.

It takes a whole a lot of sacrifice to be an athlete. It is truly a full-time job. I quit a good paying  job because I wanted to dedicate my time for training, recovery, and lowering my stress levels – just so I can perform. Almost a year later since I quit my job, I do not have a stable source of income, yet I am still getting by through doing a bit of work here and there. I sacrificed the certainty of a stable income, just so I can TRAIN. I sacrifice outings to spend 30 minutes to one hour doing my foam rolling, trigger point therapy, and stretching almost every night before going to bed because my mobility and flexibility needs A LOT OF WORK, resulting in a slim-to-none social life (Note: Trust me there were days I HATED doing my pre-bed routine, and there were weeks where I didn’t even do them, but I always end up going back because I know they could be what saves me from a serious injury and what will improve my overhead position, squat, hip flexors, IT band, loosen my hamstrings, allow more range of motion…etc. I swear this list doesn’t stop. I am THAT tight.)

It takes a lot of consistency to become an athlete. It means showing up for training before my actual session starts – come in early, to do my warm-up and work on problem areas that I know would effect my lifting, and then start the skill-work with my coach. It also means finding a consistency in a mental state while training that works toward improving performance. Constant fluctuation in my mood may have different affect on training each time – what is the mood/feeling that works best for me? Being consistent with that will lead to consistent results and progress. I have learned to become aware and recognize what are the emotions, thoughts, and issues that effect my training. (PS: Search is still ongoing for the right mental state that allows less thinking and more doing.)

It takes a lot of practice of become an elite athlete. That means taking a step back to practice my weaknesses MINDFULLY. Actively engaging and practicing my set up position in the Snatch. Practicing keeping my weight on my heels in my 2nd pull, practicing and wanting to make sure each repetition is better than the one before it. Practicing a lot of skill-work  to better my lifts. (Note: As a result of practice, I lift like a changed person technically. Each practice skill session has resulted in some kind of change, minor, maybe not noticeable at the time, however, comparing my lifts from a year ago, the changes ARE noticeable. Practice does not make perfect if done mindlessly, but it has be mindful practice. I admit, sometimes, though, when tired staying focused is a challenge and I do mindless reps, but again, work in progress!)

It takes a lot of determination and persistence to be an athlete. The level of determination to be an athlete is quite intense I might add. It is truly easy to just fail a few times and want to walk away from a session, after a few months or a year of training, or from a sport. I have learned it takes a lot to be determined, to keep training, to keep waking up in the morning for practice, to not fall off the wagon (either be it food, stretching, finding sponsors, not beat myself up for not making my snatches…etc), basically fighting against all odds, just to fight for what I want, staying determined, to achieve what I have set myself up to work toward, without giving up. (Note: This does not mean I never felt like I needed a break from it all. I do and I have. It doesn’t mean I am no longer determined when that happens, it means, simply – I need a break. I’m human afterall. )

Athletes face a lot of challenges, limitations, societal pressure, and sometimes lack of support. It takes a lot to rise above challenges, and not give up. I have dealt with a lot of physical limitations when I started training competitively (trust me, it required a post on its own, it was THAT BAD.) I am not necessarily genetically lucky in many ways, but recently found out I am in some ways for my sport – so I decided to focus on that and work hard on what I am not good at to see changes. There are societal pressure – people pointing fingers on what I am doing as a “female”, “covered”, “Emirati”, “athlete” among other labels and whatnot. The pressure of people “expecting you to perform “and win win win, lift heavier heavier heavier” and not merely understanding your sport, how it works, and how it’s a freaking-damn-process. There is dealing with possible partnerships with government, private, and international companies for support, which on its own has loads of politics and challenges. It takes A LOT for an athlete to shut all that out, rise above challenge, not give up and keep training!

It takes a lot of motivation for the athlete to keep going and not fall victim to challenges. The best thing I have learned is the best motivation a person should work with is the one that comes within, not for external factors and reasons. This is all I have to say about this. (Note: Still work in progress though.)

It takes a strong will to fight. Strong will to keep going when nothing is going right. A strong will to want to make things happen. A strong will to stay positive when the world around you crashing.

Finally, it’s having faith. Having faith that all the hard work, inside and outside the gym, sacrifices, the tears, the rolling at night, the meetings, the hours worked on proposal and presentations, media hounding at you for interviews, months spent learning how to catch the weight, the physical therapy and weekly treatments, quitting of a full-time, stable-income job, pushing against all odds and challenges – will be worth it in the end. It is not a glamorous job to be an athlete, but this is what it takes to be one, and I will keep doing what needs to be done, because I want to be an Olympian.

…And this is my story of how I became an accidental athlete.

This is what I learned in my limited time of what it takes to be an athlete since I've been one for a year. Once I make it to the Olympics, I will write another post of what it takes to be an Olympian. Give me about three years and a half. 

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About the Author

Amna Al Haddad , born in 21 Oct 1989, is an Emirati who always had a passion for health and fitness. She made history by being the first Emirati and GCC national to ever to participate in the Reebok Crossfit Games Asia Regionals. Since then she embarked on Olympic Weightlifting with being an IWF Arab and West-Asian Champ -63. A NIKE sponsored athlete, a motivational speaker and published author.

  • Ahmed

    Dear Amna,

    What you have written is truly remarkable. I admire people who have fire and will to reach goals. Your an example of what a ‘real’ athlete is. The sweat and tears is your proof of hard work. Its not about making waves in the media or the competitions you entered but its more than that. Its how you keep your mind together and focus on training “behind-the-scenes” where the real work actually takes place. Anyone can make a name, but not anyone will do the work for it ;)


    • Amna Al Haddad

      Dear Ahmed, it is refreshing to see that someone can really relate and understand what I am writing in my post. Being an athlete is truly a challenge and requires a lot of hard work, maturity, dedication and motivation. Thank you stopping by and leaving a comment =)!

    • Amna_AlHaddad

      Dear Ahmed, it is refreshing to see that someone can really relate and understand what I am writing in my post. Being an athlete is truly a challenge and requires a lot of hard work, maturity, dedication and motivation. Thank you stopping by and leaving a comment =)!

      • Ahmed

        Dear Amna,

        Its weird, I wrote a reply and it suddenly got taken away. It is truly an honor to hear from an admirable and inspiring young woman as yourself :) Personally I feel ones past defines who they are today. The feeling of “dreading” what you do everyday just because it must be done this way in our society. The feeling of doing something that you don’t love everyday and getting “sick” of it. Following a “routine” that you don’t like, makes one take strict action. Moreover, I’m happy that your doing something that makes you feel refreshed everyday ;)


  • Haya Alsharhan

    What a great post. Something I needed to read at this very moment in my life. I have many similarities as you. I discovered crossfit through you btw and now I’m heading to regionals as an individual. So I thank you for being you. You helped me discover my passion and also becoming an “accidental athlete”. I majored in Art History and worked in a museum before CrossFit. I wish you the best of luck on your journey to the Olympics inshallah.

    • Amna_AlHaddad

      Dear Haya, Thank you for stopping by and leaving a comment. I remember you when you visited Dubai last year…I am very proud of you and what you were able to achieve in a short period of time doing Crossfit. I wish you all the best at regionals, and remember to enjoy the experience. It makes me happy to see people go after what they want, and go after them hard! Keep it up =)!

  • Aqeel Aarif

    They say that every great journey starts with one small step but persistence gets you there, you’ve achieved and I know you’ll go even further- to become an Olympian. You are indeed an inspiration to others. Good Luck.

    • Amna_AlHaddad

      Thank you for your continuous support Aqeel. Inshallah! :)

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