My Fitness Journey
Lina Al Rashdi
I wanted to get fit and healthy, but I was so put off by the idea of mundane exercise – I didn’t want it to be a boring chore to do, as my worst nightmare is routine. When I was a senior in College FIT, I came across karate classes and immediately signed up, eager to find out what it was like to fight as an exercise and an art. It was so much fun that I ended up participating in competitions, winning three medals and two trophies. In one competition, there were no other women with a green belt in kumite (a type of karate), so my sensi told me I didn’t have to participate, but that I could fight the men if I wanted to. It didn’t take a second thought: I fought the men! I broke a nail that day, but I got third place in kumite.
When I came back to Oman it was difficult to find a Karate club that accepted ladies. The one I found was 30 minutes away and the timings didn’t suit my schedule, but I went for it. While I was training Karate, my cousin asked me to try his friend’s CrossFit box, offering a one-month free trial. As much as I was intimidated by the intensity of CrossFit, I was willing to give it a shot, and I liked it. I felt like I gained strength and progress in a short period of time which made me want to do more and lift heavier weights. I was determined to keep my mind open to different sports and never to fear trying.
At that time I started social media, posting some of my workout and travel photos and videos. I connected with a lot of friends online who had common interests, and in January 2019, Marwa Al-Wadhahi reached out to ask me if I would like to try weightlifting for the National team. I was never drawn to the idea of just lifting weights as a daily workout. However, I stuck by my promise of keeping an open mind and, after considerable convincing from Marwa, I gave it a shot and have never looked back. Those around me made their judgements very clear and I heard the good and bad. I was so sick of the social stigma associated with ladies practicing tough sports, particularly involving weights. I was determined to prove them wrong.
March 2019 was my first time competing in a professional sport, it was such an overwhelming experience. I had bad expectations of the competitors, perhaps prompted by movies, but this time it was my judgement that was proven wrong – they were so sweet and supportive. We had never met before but at the warmup we were cheering each other on, regardless of who was on whose team, and it created such an encouraging atmosphere.
I kept in mind that I was unlikely to win, as we hadn’t had long to prepare and I reminded myself to focus on enjoying the experience rather than on winning. But then there I was, standing on the podium with three silver medals hanging on my chest. I felt so much pride but at that time it felt different, because I hadn’t only made myself proud, I had made my country proud. The amount of support that I got was beyond expectation. Even those who hadn’t supported my decision to practice weightlifting said they were proud of me. When that happened, I remembered a quote ‘Be you and the world will adjust’. I realised women always fall under social pressure and expect to follow a certain path based on society’s preferences. My focus in my Instagram account is to break that constant social pressure for women and encourage women to practice what they want, regardless of the social stigma of it.
The Solo Backpack Trip
I never watch TV, but I used to just binge watch YouTube videos. One day, a video came up on a solo backpacking trip. One video turned to three then four and eventually it turned to a daily habit of watching solo backpacking videos. It was December 2018, the season of reflecting on the past year and planning New Year’s resolutions. Although I felt it was impossible, I wrote ‘travelling solo with a backpack’ down in my planner. I didn’t set a date, I didn’t know where to travel, I didn’t know how much I should save for it, all I knew is I wanted to travel solo with a backpack.
Summer 2019 came by, the season when the workload is at its lowest. So, I decided to plan for my trip. I must say, the planning was harder than the travelling! I chose to travel to Europe as it was recommended for female beginner solo travellers. I kept changing the countries, changing the route, changing the activities. It took me three months and, after changing the plan 100 times, I finally decided to travel to Switzerland, Czech Republic and Italy.
My family totally rejected the idea of me traveling solo. They were scared that I would get abused or attacked because of my hijab and they asked my brother join in. This might sound mean, but I felt very lucky when I found out that my brother had college registration the same week as I’d planned the trip. I took leave from work in advance so I played the ‘I can’t cancel my leave and I won’t be able to take leave later in the year’ card on my family. I was determined for the trip to go ahead.
As I was boarding on my first flight, I was still in shock! How did I make this happen - I am traveling by myself as I wanted? It felt like I was dreaming, it’s too good to be true!
It was by far the best experience of my life. I met strangers and they became friends; I have friends from all over the world now. I saw kindness in all shapes and forms. I was offered to stay at friends’ houses for free when I visit their countries. The experience toughened me up in ways that years of living in my country didn’t teach me. As I met people, I broke the stereotype that Arab and Muslim women are oppressed, several people told me that they’d never met or heard about an Arab Hijab female traveling alone before. Every time I ride a train or a board the plane for the next destination, I had to pinch myself to prove it was real.