Surgery for a knee cyst, followed by a hip and back injury that culminated in three bulging discs last year certainly wasn’t going to keep the Sharjah-based Emirati CrossFit athlete Shaikha Al Qassemi down. Now 29, she started doing CrossFit back in 2013, long before the masses in the UAE got on board. These days, she’s got 24,700 Instagram followers @kikiforcrossfit – she prefers the term “inspirer,” not influencer, by the way. She represents a number of brands, including Red Bull and Lululemon, and has opened her own CrossFit gym. She’s also too busy to cook and deep in training for the next big competition in November. Also, don’t get her started on the word “diet.” Read on for more about how Al Qassemi lives healthy.
You had an injury after a car accident. What surgery did you have and what tips would you have for other people who are struggling after a setback?
The car accident wasn’t serious. And neither was the injury at first. I had the accident right in front of the gym, so I actually trained right after it and mid-workout I felt my knee just lock up. After that I got it checked a few times and there was nothing wrong with it. I continued training and competing and eventually my knee started swelling up and generated a cyst, so the surgery was actually to remove the cyst. I focused on maintaining upper body strength throughout my recovery. During Ramadan 2017, I pulled my hip flexor during Muay Thai training and affected my back as well. By September I wasn’t able to sit, stand, or even hold a plank. It was the hardest months I ever experienced coming back from three bulged discs and inflamed hips joints. Luckily I had a great team that guided me through my recovery. Dr. Janine McKay, Dr. William Murrell and Dr. Nabil Hamdan of Emirates Integra clinic put their efforts together. I went through four sessions of stem cell procedure. With the help of my coach Luke Holmes I am back in full recovery, already training for the competition of the year, Battle of the East in Kuwait.
Can you describe the ethos/inspiration behind the gym, Platform, that you opened last year in Dubai?
I have trained in a number of CrossFit boxes in the UAE and I have noticed that people just want to learn. I was inspired by a couple of boxes I visited abroad where it was just about having a good workout and a good time. I am not strict with athletes coming in late to classes or not being able to push hard in workouts, we all have good days and bad days and the last thing I want to do is stress athletes during the only hour they want to get away. I am, however, very strict with movement and mechanics. Having gone through injuries myself, I want to get athletes stronger, fitter and, over all, good with movement for their day to day activities.
What was it like to open your own gym?
Crazy!! It has been a dream of mine for years since I started CrossFit, and it has grown into so much more than I initially intended.
What challenges did you face?
I would say trying to ease the idea of CrossFit and what it really is has been a great challenge. Many of our members are my followers, and they watch my videos on Instagram lifting heavy, pushing hard and practicing highly skilled movements and they get intimidated. We do explain to new members that everything in CrossFit is scalable. If even burpees are too hard for you, we will find a way for you to at least move. It’s all about starting somewhere and the results I have experienced first-hand with our members are incredible.
What are your personal fitness goals moving forward?
Get good at everything. Get better every day. Train and be mindful of my training. Putting in my best effort day in and day out.
How about goals for your business?
My business is slowly growing with the right team efforts, I am very grateful and thankful for every person that puts in work at the gym, even the members. I want to grow Platform into more of an educational hub as well, it’s very important to educate the public about health, fitness, nutrition and even well-being.
Any setbacks that you’d had to work through lately personally or professionally?
My schedule some weeks are crazy, training is always a priority so I have to work everything else around it. Having to coach three to four hours daily and train two hours a day takes up a lot of hours in the day. The rest of my time I spend working, writing, replying to emails and have sponsor commitments as well with Red Bull and Lululemon. It has been tough fitting in my training and I don’t have time to make my own food so I have to arrange meal prep companies to send me food during the week to have one less thing to do.
How many sponsorships do you have now and what is that work like?
I’m a Red Bull sponsored athlete and an ambassador to four other companies: Lululemon Athletica, which I have been representing for three years; SciMX, a supplement brand; Beet IT, another supplement brand; and Athia Skin Care. With Red Bull and Lululemon I do a lot of work with them within the community — talks, appearances and run workouts in schools, universities or corporations. All other brands I mention them through social media as products that I use daily. I am very picky with the brands. I have been approached by others but I only represent brands that are aligned with my values and that I actually use with training.
You have a large Instagram following. How did you build it, how do you inspire/engage your followers, and do you ever feel tired of being an influencer?
I have been active on Instagram since the very beginning. It has always been public and I always put an effort to reply to my followers, whether it’s through comments or direct message. Tired? Yes! Going out sometimes is tough. I’ve been pointed at a few times, heard whispers of my name while passing, but the best part about being an influencer is when my followers see me in public and tell me how I have inspired them to train, eat healthy and have educated them through my platforms.
How do you like to eat? Do you follow any particular diet?
I don’t believe in “diets,” I personally don’t think people should be following diets. People should find what works for them and incorporate that into their lifestyle. I work with one of M2 Performance Nutrition’s emote coaches who sends me my macros depending on my goals and volume of training. Sometimes I would adjust my macros depending on how I feel. If I feel sluggish or restless during sleep, I would add more carbs to help me recover for next day training. Macros are basically your carbs, protein and fats. They would provide me with grams of how much to eat daily. I have a meal prep company, Athleat, that sends me my meals, and I do still weigh my food to make sure I am eating enough.
What’s your least favorite CrossFit move and how do you power through?
I really don’t have a least favorite, I think the hardest would be thrusters, and the combination of thrusters and burpees is just death!!
What’s next for you? What are you working on?
I have been working on my mindset when it comes to training and competing, being in the present moment and working toward getting better every day.