NEW JERSEY – For Ibtihaj Muhammad, America’s first hijabi Olympian fencer, fasting from dawn to dusk during the holy fasting month of Ramadan did not bar her from daily training for Rio de Janeiro games later this year.
“My faith is first and foremost to me. It’s a priority,” Muhammad told The Huffington Post on Thursday, June 16.
“So it was never a question of whether I would fast and train. I’ve had to fast and train for as long as I’ve been competing at this level. The only difference for me this go around is that I’m in the middle of training for the Olympics.”
In usual days, Muhammad says she spends up to seven hours training on an average day.
The schedule had to change during Ramadan to find energy for daily hard training.
During the holy month, she gets up before sunrise for morning prayers and suhoor, the morning meal.
She has the most energy for cross-training from about 6:45-8 am, trying to wrap up afternoon fencing workouts by about 1 or 2 pm before her energy takes a dip leading up to sunset when she can break her fast.
“I feel like I have a handle of how much I can do while fasting,” she said. Knowing when to push herself and when to ease up is a “balancing act.”
Along with adjusting training schedules, she also adjusts her diet to make sure that the food she eats will power her throughout the day.
“In the past I’ve had muscle injuries during Ramadan, and that’s always my biggest concern going into this holy month and training at the same time,” Muhammad told HuffPost.
Aside from fasting from food and water, Ramadan also entails frequent prayers, reading from the Qur’an and engaging in community worship and meals.
Evening prayers in the mosque can go until 11:30 pm or midnight, and Muhammad said it’s important for her to stay up for these even when she’s exhausted and knows she’ll be up before sunrise the following morning.
“It’s only during this holy month that we have the opportunity to have this prayer,” she told HuffPost.
“It can be difficult because some days I’m asking my body for so much physically. But these 30 days go by quickly, and I want to get the most out of it.”
Acknowledging Ramadan challenges, Muhammad emphasized that her struggle isn’t out of the ordinary.
“Fasting is not easy for anyone, and it’s not meant to be easy,” she said.
“I don’t think my struggle is any different than anyone else’s. There are people who don’t have access to food or water on a daily basis, but I know when the sun goes down I can eat and drink. I feel very thankful.”