Athletes all across the world are gearing up for this year's Summer Olympics in Rio. But one professional female saber fencer from New Jersey has already broken a record before even setting foot in the ring. 30-year-old Ibtihaj Muhammad will be the Olympics' first hijab-wearing athlete ever, after successfully qualifying for a spot in the games with a third place win in an Olympic event last week.
The African American fencer first made history a few years back when she became the first Muslim woman to compete for the U.S. in fencing. But fencing for her wasn't so much of a calling as it was a coincidence.
She first took up the sport at 13 when she and her mother noticed the fencing team at school. "Because they were fully covered, my mom suggested that I should try it out when [I] got to high school," Muhammad is quoted as saying in her bio on USA Fencing. "As a Muslim female, the sport was uniquely accommodating. My religion requires that my body be fully covered and fencing did just that."
But it wasn't until her time at Duke University that she fully committed to the sport — and subsequently noticed its lack of diversity.
"Historically, it's always been a white sport reserved for people with money," Muhammad told BuzzFeed. "I don't think it's a good representation of the U.S., or of society as a whole."
"When most people picture an Olympic fencer, they probably do not imagine a person like me," Muhammad said on USA Fencing. "Fortunately, I am not most people. ... I want to compete in the Olympics for the United States to prove that nothing should hinder anyone from reaching their goals — not race, religion or gender. I want to set an example that anything is possible with perseverance."
A Plus has reached out to Muhammad for comment.
Cover image via Ibtihaj Muhammad / Instagram