LONDON – In her new book, ‘Proud: My Fight for an Unlikely American Dream’, the famous African American Muslim Olympian, Ibtihaj Muhammad, spoke about overcoming emotional hurdles during her career within Team USA, Build Series revealed on July 25.
“I battled with depression for quite a long time. I felt unaccepted in fencing because of its previous lack of diversity. That exclusion had severe mental and emotional ramifications,” she said during her interview.
Muhammad competed in the 2016 Rio Olympics where she became the first veiled Muslim American woman to compete for Team USA at the Olympics and the first Muslim American woman to win a medal (bronze).
“The depression I suffered stemmed from not really understanding how to navigate a space where I wasn’t welcome as a minority member of Team USA. But also, that pressure to perform, with that weight on my shoulders of not being accepted and feeling like I wasn’t being accepted, having to deal with performance anxiety,” she continued.
This depression and ensuing anxiety, which she first started experiencing in 2014, could have had something to do with her losing at the women’s individual saber event in Rio de Janeiro and not winning an individual medal.
“It was affecting how I competed, it was affecting my results,” she admitted.
She described the physical effects of her performance anxiety by saying: “At first, I had no idea what was happening. The morning of a competition I’d wake up feeling lethargic and sleepy — overwhelmingly so — despite having had a good night’s rest.”
However, the Muslim Olympian had an incredible support system to bring her back to reality.
“My mom and my sister, in particular, got me through really tough moments as a member of Team USA, moments that I wasn’t sure I was going to make it out of,” she expressed.
In 2014, Muhammad and her siblings launched their own clothing company, Louella, which aims to bring modest fashionable clothing to the American market.
Through overcoming these hardships and after her Olympic achievements, she became a sports ambassador, serving on the U.S. Department of State’s Empowering Women and Girls Through Sport Initiative.
Moreover, last year, Mattel introduced a Barbie in a Hijab, which is designed after the black Muslim athlete.