Strong is Beautiful: Shaikha Al Qassemi’s CrossFit Journey
“The woman who follows the crowd will usually go no further than the crowd… The woman who walks alone is likely to find herself in places no one has ever been before….!” – Albert Einstein
Shaikha Al Qassemi is only 28, but she is already a Lululemon and Red Bull ambassador, professional CrossFit athlete, entrepreneur, and founder of KikiForCrossFit movement. She believes we should get out there, live life, and take risks; that women can pursue applying makeup or lifting weights, but what ultimately matters is that you act on your dreams – big or small – but act…!
ub-cool: Please tell us about yourself and how you were introduced to the world of CrossFit?
Shaikha Al Qassemi: I began my CrossFit journey four years ago, in February 2013, when I did not know the extent of my true abilities. At that time, I would train in various areas such as kick boxing, swimming, bodybuilding, basic cardio, etc; however, I did not feel challenged by my coaches and trainers until I began training with Inger Houghton, a personal trainer, nutritionist, and co-owner of “Scandinavian Health and Performance” in Dubai — she both challenged and encouraged me to lift weights. I was then introduced to CrossFit which, in 2013, had a reputation in the media for being dangerous, unhealthy, and injury prone.
My belief is “you can’t judge what you don’t experience.” So, I decided to take a CrossFit class and was hooked!
After competing in my first several competitions — Urban Spring Challenge 2013, DXB Fitness Championship, among others — I found myself placing in the top 10; this surprised me because I didn’t expect my capabilities to be at that level so quickly. So, I decided to pursue CrossFit full time and also encourage women to embrace movement and lifting as it helps to increase confidence, discipline, and a sense of empowerment.
Once I shared my story on Instagram and gained a following, Red Bull and Lululemon picked me up and, as they say, the rest is history.
ub-cool: In the beginning, who was your biggest supporter and who was your biggest opponent?
Shaikha Al Qassemi: When I started, my friends and my family were all supportive; whoever wasn’t supportive, I just didn’t pay attention to them and shrugged them off saying: “you can’t judge what you don’t understand.”
ub-cool: When you decided to become a professional athlete, what was the biggest challenge you faced?
Shaikha Al Qassemi: The biggest challenge was putting myself out there on social media because I was very unsure of what I would get in return. As much as I wanted to inspire, educate and empower people, there were many people who criticized my choices. They would insult me with comments such as: “you look like a man”, “women are not supposed to lift weights”, and much more. Today, I am still constantly faced with negative online followers; however, I do not allow their comments to affect me because I know these are simply their personal opinions that I do not share. As long as you focus on your own dream, then you will make your dream a reality. If I allow them to distract me from my dream, then I will never be able to achieve it.
ub-cool: What do you believe is your mission?
Shaikha Al Qassemi: I want to inspire women, men, and children – I want to inspire the world! – to embrace health and fitness in their lives. I believe health and fitness is the answer to all problems because if you eat and move well, then everything internally will follow.
To help encourage people to engage in health and fitness, I am opening my gym, “Platform”. This space will allow members and athletes to achieve their personal goals – recreational or professional – and also serve as a home where they can be themselves, be comfortable, and be confident in their own skin.
ub-cool: Please tell us more about your movement called “KikiForCrossFit”?
Shaikha Al Qassemi: It is a movement encouraging more women to go to the gym, to lift weights, to move, to become healthy and fit, all without the fear of how their bodies will look, and what their family and society will think.
ub-cool: In one word, how would you describe yourself?
Shaikha Al Qassemi: Courageous.
ub-cool: What do you consider to be your first achievement?
Shaikha Al Qassemi: For me, every day is a success and I cannot pick just one moment. As a child and teenager, I was a very different person; I lacked ambition and aim because I thought I was destined to work in the office. It was only after I discovered CrossFit, and was picked up by Red Bull and Lululemon, that I found a goal and, since then, every day has been an achievement and a success.
ub-cool: It is inspiring that you have become a professional athlete in four short years, whereas most professional athletes start training as children or, if not, they often were very athletic. How would you describe the evolution of female-CrossFit trainees, here in Dubai, since 2013?
Shaikha Al Qassemi: Compared to 2013, among female-CrossFit trainees, you can see incredible strength and progress. Today, there are determined women who can front squat 125 kilos; to give you an idea, that is the same amount that their male coach front squats. This is why I love CrossFit: it is a community rather than just people competing for a place on the podium; it is about bringing people together, staying together, and supporting each other. I feel it is completely different than other sports.
ub-cool: What advice would give to people trying to discover themselves?
Shaikha Al Qassemi: I believe you will only feel fulfillment, peace, and happiness and be able to achieve your goals when you do what you love. When asked about my day at the gym, I never say I am at work because, to me, I do not feel I am working. Of course, it is technically my work and my career, but it is first and foremost my passion and I never label it work.
You have to have full faith in what you believe in, and everything will work out as long as you follow your passion and focus on your dream. If you do not have a dream, then you can find one. I know this from personal experience: ten years ago, I thought I was going to be opening restaurants, or become a makeup artist, or develop as a writer. Even though I love and enjoy fashion and writing poetry (over 200 poems since I was 13), I found myself in CrossFit and CrossFit led me and guided me to where I am today.
My advice for everybody is to read a book, which I read last year, that inspired me to open my gym: Who says you can’t? You do, by Daniel Chidiac. This book has changed not only my life, but also my sister and friends’ lives; in fact, after reading the book, I bought 25 copies and handed them out to my sister and friends. When people ask me what my secret for success is, I simply answer saying I don’t have a secret but recommend they read Chidiac’s book for inspiration.