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Leaders Magazine meets Kariman Abuljadayel, first Saudi woman athlete in Olympics 100 meters sprint

In 2016, Kariman Abuljadayel was the first Saudi woman athlete to take part in the Olympics 100 meters sprint competition in Rio de Janeiro. She’s now tuned her attention to rowing. She took time off from her busy training schedule to talk to Qurratulain Wahab about her preparations for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Leaders Magazine sat down recently with Kariman to highlight her scoops as a Saudi woman athlete 

When did you first take an interest in athletics?

I have my mom to thank for that. When I was around six or seven, I was overweight to a point where it was actually hard for me to run around and play with other kids. My mom encouraged me to take up various physical exercises and I was able to lose all of the excess weight and become a lot healthier. Since then, I continued to play sports.

Was there a particular watershed moment when you decided you wanted to qualify for the Olympics?

Growing up watching sports, it was a dream of mine to be a professional athlete. At that time, there was a ban on Saudi women competing in the Olympics. However, in 2012 the ban was

She used to travel all the way from Saudi Arabia to support me. She gave me unconditional support to follow my dreams in a culture that considers sport as a male domain. Without her, taking part in the Olympics would have remained just a dream.

What was the experience of taking part in the Olympics like?

I can’t find the words to describe how it felt competing at the Olympics. From appearing on the large screen at the opening ceremony and waving to my mother and siblings to finishing the race and setting a national record for Saudi Arabia, it was truly the experience of a lifetime. You live for moments like that and I’m forever grateful I got to experience such a moment. The pride you feel representing your country is indescribable. I was the first female 100 meter sprinter from Saudi Arabia and one of the first five Saudi females to participate in the Olympics. I’m thankful all those hours of training and the sacrifices I had to make to reach the Olympics paid off.

You’re now preparing to take part in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics rowing competition. What led you to change from sprinting to rowing?

I’m embarking on a new journey. I now row for Saudi Arabia in the women’s single skulls category (W1x). I’m currently based in the U.K. where I’m being coached by the former British coach and Olympic silver medalist, Bill Barry. Why did I change to rowing? The answer is that when you reach a high level of performance in a particular sport, you begin to understand that there are other sports that you can also become good at and there are others in which you can excel. It’s all about hard work and dedication. At the same time physical characteristics can provide a competitive edge in a particular sport more than another. For someone as tall as I am (180cm), rowing actually suits me much more than the 100 meters sprint. After the 2016 Olympics, I was advised to change to rowing and I decided to give it a try. The moment I first got into the boat, I fell in love with the sport.

 I really enjoy being on the water. It gives you a feeling of freedom unlike anything you’ve experienced before. Of course, the transition from being a sprinter to a rower hasn’t been easy. Rowing requires great strength and uses aerobic and anaerobic energy. The 2,000 meter race lasts between seven to eight minutes. That’s significantly different to a 100 meters sprint which lasts only a few seconds.  Being a sprinter taught me a lot, not only as an athlete but as a human being. It taught me discipline and patience. I hope to carry on what I learned on the track to the world of rowing.

Tell us something about your training regime? Do you have a special diet?

Being an athlete is a full-time job. You train for eleven months a year, six days a week, and two or three times a day. You need a lot of energy to maintain a high level of performance and that’s why diet is so important. It’s your source of energy – the fuel which keeps you going.

lifted and during the fall of that year, as an architecture student at Northeastern University in Boston, I decided to start training in earnest. I joined the school’s track and field team which was the first step in a long journey to the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. The journey was never easy, especially in the beginning. People would tell me it was too late for me to qualify for the Olympics. There were many moments of self-doubt, disappointment, and fear of failure. But I knew that to win, you have to lose a hundred times. To get to the highs, you need to go through the lows. It’s never a linear process.

What was your family’s response?

I’ve been fortunate to have had the support of my family from the get-go. When it was announced in 2012 that the ban on Saudi women participating in the Olympics had been lifted, I remember my mom calling me into the living room to see the news on television. She said, “Come on! It’s your turn next”. I don’t think I would’ve made it this far without my mom. When I was training in the U.S. and participating in competitions,

What you eat impacts your training, performance and recovery. If that’s compromised, you’re putting yourself at risk of injuries and fatigue-related issues. My advice for every aspiring athlete is to sit down with a nutritionist and discuss the macro- and micro-nutrients that are required to support the demands of training and competition.

You earned bachelors and master’s degrees in architecture from Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts. Do you plan to take up architecture as a profession?

After receiving my masters in 2018, I became a lecturer at the College of Architectural Engineering at al-Faisal University in Riyadh. The experience has been very enriching and has made me realize how noble the teaching profession is. The most important thing for me when it comes to teaching is to be transparent and sincere with my students. I try not to place myself above them because I have more knowledge. The students are highly intellectual, smart, and creative. My job is to help them to reach their full potential. After I retire from athletics, I hope to continue my career in academia