Saudi Arabia’s women athletes dream big

A unique feeling of anxiety and pride had gripped Saudi Arabia’s Zahra Al Tala as she prepared to take her first attempt in the discus wheelchair women final F52-54 at the Dubai 2019 World Para Athletics Grand Prix that was held last week.

History was made that day (24 February) when Zahra along with two others, Amal Alahmari and Sarah Aljumaah, became the first Saudi Arabia women to compete in an international Para athletics meet. So, jitters were quite normal.

 “Earlier I was a bit apprehensive about how it would be like to compete in such a big event. But it’s an amazing experience. I feel confident and lucky to be here today and participate on behalf of all the women of Saudi Arabia,” Zahra told Asian Paralympic Committee after her round, where she finished fifth.

“I am also happy that I could overcome my own fears that if I will not be able to compete infront of so many people.

“I hope I can take part in more events in future. Here, I have made many friends from the UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait and Turkey etc. I want to meet them again,” she added.

What was fascinating about Zahra was not just her indomitable spirit but her appetite to learn and excel. On the last day of the competitions, she hurled the Javelin with just an hour of training. “And she did quite well,” said their coach Abdullah Mashrawi. Zahra ended fourth with a throw of 4.24 metres.

“Thank You His Majesty King Salman”

A high-school graduate, the 33-year-old Zahra also has a diploma in computers. She aspires to take up a full-time job someday but for now, she is focused to improve her skills and technique in her new interest—javelin and discus events.

 “I hope to work someday. But that’s okay as I have a lot of work to do now. I have to work on my power and to get distance in my events. I hope to win a medal for Saudi Arabia one day,” she added.

Like Zahra, Amal also aspires to bring home glory. The 42-year-old Amal, eldest among the three women athletes in the team, was like an elder sister for both Zahra and Sarah.

“It’s a proud moment for all of us. We want to thank His Majesty King Salman bin AbdulAziz Al Saud and his son His Royal Highness Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud for allowing women participation in Para events. This will inspire the women athletes in Saudi Arabia,” said Amal who participated in Shot Put F35-37 event. Amal used to take up part-time projects of interior decoration before she turned an athlete.

Sarah, who ended fifth among the eight competitors, in the same event was excited about her performance. “I am very happy I could cross the five-metre mark in my first attempt. I want to work hard now.”

Role Models

When asked what their plans are for the future, Zahra added: “I want to become a role model for the People of Determination and inspire more girls in my country (Saudi Arabia) to take up athletics. Like me, they can also feel proud about themselves.”

All the three athletes train in Riyadh and have taken part in the Dubai Grand Prix after three-months training. Mashawi admitted that the exposure will do a whole lot of good to the women athletes.

“Zahra, Amal and Sarah are among the 10 women who have been training for the past three months in Riyadh under my supervision. They are improving but they have to improve a lot of to compete in international events,” the coach said.

The recent development, a part of the new Saudi Arabia which has witnessed several changes in the restrictions on women in sports recently, has also sparked interest among young female athletes.

“We are organising camps for female athletes and many youngsters are showing interest, which is very good. Next year, I hope we have more women athletes in our team.”

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