Muslim woman is an Olympic weightlifter and has an engineering PhD

Being a woman in a male-dominated field is no easy feat, particularly where physical capabilities are concerned.

And Kulsoom Abdullah is bossing one of the biggest male-dominated industries – weightlifting.

The Pakistani-American is one of the very few Muslim women in the profession and is the first to represent Pakistan at the World Championship.

She is also the only Muslim woman to compete in an international weightlifting event while wearing a hijab.

Kulsoom has been competing in Olympic weightlifting competitions since 2010, after taking an interest in taekwondo.

Just in case that wasn’t enough, Kulsoom also has a PhD in engineering (putting us all to shame).

The journey to the World Championship, which takes place in Thailand this September, has been a long one for Kulsoom.

She was denied entry into the national weightlifting championship in 2010 because she wore a headscarf.

But she wasn’t willing to lie down and take this, so challenged the rules and was able to enter the following year.

‘It was very disappointing and affected my training even though I was used to some discrimination,’ she explains to

‘I had already been training and competing at the local level, so this was a jarring feeling.

‘In retrospect, it was all a life-changing experience. Being told no, then getting support and media attention was very surprising and sudden. I did my best to take advantage of being given this voice and platform.’

The lack of representation of Muslim women in sports also hindered the idea that she could enter such spaces.

‘I did not know what weightlifting was when I was a child. Not having any role models or thinking that I could be athletic, I never pursued a sport.

‘I got interested in weightlifting later in life when I was in graduate school.

‘I started taking taekwondo and worked up to the black belt. To supplement it, I started to build up my endurance and strength.

‘At the time, it was difficult to find resources on women and strength training so a lot I did on my own. I enjoyed being active and wanted to keep working on my strength even after finishing my PhD. This ultimately led me to weightlifting.’

While engineering might be considered a lucrative career, weightlifting was somewhat an unorthodox choice for Kulsoom’s community.

But her family is supportive, she adds: ‘I was encouraged to compete.

‘[At the gym] I’m usually asked if I am hot due to being covered up. The answer is yes, I usually am when it is summer, and there is no air conditioning but in the winter I am just fine.

‘I think because I tried my best to find positive environments to learn and train, and was focused on it, I did not pay attention or find out what people thought about me doing this.’

Of course, all of that requires a lot of discipline and a serious amount of hard work. But Kulsoom always manages to lift her spirits (see what we did there?).

While getting her PhD in Electrical/Computer Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology, Kulsoom began balancing the sport with her studies.

‘It was a challenge. When I was in graduate school, and taking taekwondo, I was basically sleeping, eating, studying, working, training, then sleeping again.

‘Later on, with weightlifting, I enjoyed the sport and wanted to keep doing it at least for my own mental and physical health. I tried to make sure I took care of myself, and take breaks during the holidays so I could re-energise.

‘Today, working in the industry is more flexible than at university, so I just find weightlifting a part of my routine to take care of myself.’

Kulsoom adds that seeing the positive reaction from people and showing young Muslim girls that it’s possible for them to do the unthinkable too has been one of the biggest highlights.

We expect many more highlights from her career.

Source: Read Full Article