Ibtihaj Muhammad: She’s a Fencing Queen

October 6 - On The Dot
FIRST THOUGHT: Flexing Your Self-esteem Muscles

I recently stumbled across a blog post written by a woman reminiscing about her high-school gym class. Lucky her: The school had a pool. Not so lucky: The school required girls to wear swimsuits that were color-coded based on size. Yes, seriously! Everyone would line up along the edge of the pool, sans towels, full of dread and humiliation. Terrifying, right? As I look back at my high-school physical-education experiences, I realize the girls I envied—those who seemed effortlessly athletic—probably felt just as awkward as the rest of us.


If you want to do well in life, whether it’s in sports or in your relationships, you’ve got to shake those jitters. I’m still figuring this one out, but there are plenty of women out there who have honed their psyches into well-oiled machines, ready to take on whatever petrifying physical and mental challenges come their way. I’m talking about Olympians. Yes, those competitive goddesses who can hoist and arch and synchronize without missing a beat. Take the sport of fencing, for example. Between 1924 and 2016, of the 156 Olympic medals awarded in the sport, U.S. female fencing athletes fought to earn 9 medals. Not too shabby, ladies! Italian women fencers, however, hold the all-time record, with an astonishing 27 Olympic fencing medals. I guess years and years of dedicated practice are worth their weight in gold!

WOMAN TO WATCH: Ibtihaj Muhammad, U.S. Olympic Fencer

One truly impressive woman conquering the fencing game for the good ol’ U.S. of A. is Ibtihaj Muhammad, one of the best fencers in the world, currently the third-ranked fencer in the U.S. and a member of the U.S. women’s saber team that took down Italy in the finals at the 2016 Olympics to bring home the bronze medal. Yeah, she's mind-blowingly good!

But during the 2016 Summer Olympics, spectators were less focused on Ibtihaj’s fearless, fine-tuned moves, opting instead to zero in on the hijab she wears while competing. A Muslim-American from New Jersey, Ibtihaj made history as the first woman to wear the religious headscarf in competition, and we can’t praise her enough for remaining true to herself, even among the pressures of the world stage.

Of course, critics being what they are, the reactions to this ranged from praise to criticism. Ibtihaj recalls questions about whether she speaks English, where her family is really from and other rude assumptions. But graceful and focused, Ibtihaj responded to such unenlightened questions like a champ, proving her mettle on the mat. Sadly, these stereotypes didn’t end there. In 2017, this Olympic medalist was detained at customs without an explanation, an example of the daily racism and harassment she endures. I’d love to see a fencing match between Ibtihaj and these critics!

Fencing since the age of 13, Ibtihaj is nothing if not totally stellar at the sport. Her chosen realm, saber, is just one type of modern fencing, often distinguished by the wicked-fast ability to score using the blade’s edge. It is absolutely exhilarating to watch, namely because fencers, including Ibtihaj, are remarkably quick-footed and focused.

Ibtihaj’s elegance, finesse and perseverance make her a wonderful role model, which is likely why Hillary Clinton asked her to serve on a council aimed at empowering women and girls through sports. We’re certain she will continue to inspire girls to find their calling and do their best at whatever sport or life they choose. And that’s the most inspiring accomplishment of all!


With Ibtihaj Muhammad’s history-making career in mind, I’ll leave you today with a quote from another female champion who knows a thing or two about breaking the mold, tennis star Serena Williams:

“Since I don’t look like every other girl, it takes a while to be OK with that, to be different. But different is good!”

This is Melinda Garvey signing off until next time. Remember, ladies, empowered women empower other women. Share On the Dot so more women can have a voice. Thanks for getting ready with us.

To learn more about our conversation, check us out at OnTheDotWoman.com and talk to us @OnTheDotWoman on Twitter and Instagram. We’d love to hear your voice.

Head-shot photo courtesy of U.S. Olympic Committee. Background photo by Serge Timacheff/FIE.

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