Amnah Al Bahar never expected to become one of the top Emirati women rocking all things CrossFit.
The first of two Emirati CrossFit athletes to compete at the regional 2018 CrossFit Games in Madrid, she just sort of found it, she says. It was 2011, and Bahar had just graduated from college, wrapping up years of playing on her school’s basketball team.
“I needed to fill that hole somehow.” She started training at bootcamps, but still something was missing. Then she went to CrossFit and her coach said three words to her: ‘Wow, you’re strong’.
“I instantly fell in love with the sport,” Bahar explains. “I reveled in the idea of getting down and dirty by flipping tires, climbing ropes, lifting heavy weights. I loved how strong these women were. They seemed so confident and ripped.” Bahar wanted to be a part of that. And then the next year, when watching the sport’s Icelandic star, Annie Thorisdottir, race to the finish line of the Reebok CrossFit Games, Bahar knew she found a consuming passion.
“That’s when I made the commitment to train,” she says. “From that day on, every decision I would make would be one that would get me one step closer to competing in the CrossFit Games.”
This young athlete hired a coach, changed her diet and started working very, very hard. Despite training twice a day most days (a mix of gymnastics, weight lifting and general conditioning), it still took Bahar years before she thought of herself as a professional athlete.
“I was always so reluctant to call myself an athlete because I wasn’t quite strong enough or couldn’t land all the gymnastic skills,” she explains. Yet three years in, Bahar made it to the CrossFit Regionals in Copenhagen as part of a team. There, able to perform complex movements like the snatch and muscle up, Bahar found her mindset changing. “Now I can call myself an athlete.”
While there have been numerous successes, Bahar is open about the more emotional side of temporary setbacks. One of her biggest disappointments, she says, was failing to qualify for the 2017 Dubai Fitness Championships.
“I went up to my coach with tears streaming down my face. That was a tough time for me,” she says. “I make sure I remember those moments when I need to make one last push in my training sessions.”
These days, Bahar is working toward competing alongside the fittest women in the world during the upcoming Dubai Fitness Championship in December. Her training has shifted now, focusing more on gymnastics and aerobic activities. And her determination has grown stronger than ever.
“You get the fittest athletes from all over the world coming here to compete for the title,” Bahar notes. The only similar event for her is the Reebok CrossFit Games.
“I remember the first year I qualified. It was a dream come true to compete side by side against the fittest — and in some cases kick their butts!”
Representing the UAE, particularly in her home country, is always an honor, Bahar adds. She’s going to keep working hard to do her best. Recently Bahar spoke at Flow, a creative space and restaurant in Dubai, about her experience.
“Women have come a long way in CrossFit, and Emirati women in CrossFit have had a steeper ladder to climb,” she says, adding that there was a stigma related to lifting heavy objects and looking masculine. “But I had a goal. I knew where I wanted to be and I wasn’t going to get distracted by chatter.”
Slowly, things have changed. CrossFit classes have more women who want to get strong.
“Nowadays, women who CrossFit are seen as strong, ambitious, brave and goal oriented – all qualities of great leaders and great women!”