Meet Ibtihaj Muhammad, an American Olympian making history in Rio de Janeiro this summer.
She’s a fencer, and she’s damn good at it.
Muhammad, a proud black Muslim from New Jersey, is the first athlete to compete on Team USA while wearing a hijab.
That’s right: Before Muhammad, no American Olympian none! has rocked a hijab while reppin’ the red, white, and blue. This fact, in and of itself, makes her pretty cool. But that’s hardly the half of it.
Here are nine reasons to justify your love for Muhammad while she’s killing it in Brazil:
1. Muhammad runs with the coolest squad in Rio.
And she’s not afraid to flaunt it (just a little bit).
2. She totally schooled Stephen Colbert in fencing on national television and has zero regrets about it.
Who else can say they did that?
3. She loves wearing the hijab because it’s a big part of who she is.
“The hijab is very much a part of who I am and definitely helps me in my relationship with God and with my own spirituality,” she explained to the BBC. “It is a personal choice and a personal relationship you have with God.”
“Wearing the hijab is a reminder to myself, in a society that is not predominantly Muslim, of being aware of your own religion. Being in sport, it is part of my journey and as an individual, the hijab has always felt right for me. … It is not forced upon women, especially in the U.S., and is a conscious decision that I am making.”
4. She will speak out about politics because rhetoric from powerful people has real-life consequences.
I think his words are very dangerous, she told CNN of GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump’s anti-Muslim platform. When these types of comments are made, no one thinks about how they really affect people. Im African-American. I dont have another home to go to. My family was born here. I was born here. Ive grown up in Jersey. All my familys from Jersey. Its like, well, where do we go?
5. She’s happy to be a trailblazing role model not just for little girls, but for little boys, too.
“While so many boys find inspiration in sports from men, I’m happy to know my nephew has my sister Faizah and I to look up to,” she wrote on Facebook after qualifying for the Olympics. “I wanted to qualify not just for myself, but for him.”
6. She’s cool enough to meet the president (who also knows a thing or two about making history, mind you).
7. She’s never let the haters hold her back, and she’s not about to start now.
I just remember being ostracized and being told that there were things that I couldnt do because I was black, or there were things I couldnt do because I was Muslim, or there were limitations because I was a girl,” she said. “Throughout my entire life I feel like I’ve tried to combat these stereotypes.”
8. Muhammad wins extra points for being just as infatuated with Ellen DeGeneres as the rest of us.
“I am so obsessed with you,” she said on Ellen’s show in June. “I’m so excited to be here. You’re such a role model.”
9. She’s got Ramadan jokes.
And not every Olympic fencer has Ramadan jokes.
(Yeah, I’d be tired, too, if I had to be on my A-game during a religious holiday where fasting all day is required.)
10. Muhammad’s mom got her into fencing for the most practical of reasons: the uniform.
Other sports required Muhammad to wear specially tailored uniforms that would cover her head, legs, and arms. As a kid, Muhammad did not enjoy sticking out among her teammates, who wore shorts, T-shirts, or leotards.
So fencing, with its high-coverage uniform, seemed like the answer.
“My mom just so happened to discover fencing,” Muhammad told CNN. “She was driving past a local high school and saw kids with what she thought was like, a helmet and like, long pants and long jacket. She was like, ‘I don’t know what it is, but I want you to try it.’”
11. She has many stereotype-busting friends as well, and she loves giving them shoutouts.
“These are the top fencers in United States and among the best in the world,” she captioned a photo of herself and other black fencers during Black History Month. “I’m thankful for my United States teammates who continue to make strides in the sport of fencing, not only for themselves, but for all of us who have ever been judged for the color of our skin.”
Every athlete in Rio deserves our praise, no doubt.
But when a history-making athlete overcomes racism, religious bigotry, and sexism to make it onto that Olympic stage in a sport where few people share a story similar to hers?
That sort of perseverance is exactly what being on Team USA is all about.
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