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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - RIYADH: Saudi weightlifter Hanouf Hawsawi has challenged the stereotypes surrounding women in the sport by competing in the 71+ kg category at the 2023 Saudi Games.
Hawsawi, who had only trained for a month and a half before the games this year, told Arab News: “I was jumping from joy when announced that I won the fifth place, and this will give me motivation to be in the first place next year, hopefully.”
Her weightlifting journey began in 2019 and she has participated in other competitions.
Cultural norms and gendered expectations initially caused her family to oppose her participation in the sport.
“We used to believe that women shouldn’t carry heavy objects because it was a new sport for them in Saudi Arabia. So, when any other women saw that I was carrying a lot of weight, they all said, ‘you shouldn’t do that, it’s bad for girls,’” she said.
Saudi Arabia is supporting sports ... and providing significant assistance to Saudi women who participate in sports. This has made it possible for myself and many others to demonstrate our abilities and gain confidence.
Hanouf Hawsawi, Saudi athlete
The expectation placed on women to meet certain beauty standards was another challenge initially imposed on Hawsawi: “Even my relatives were surprised and didn’t like it because they thought I might not have a chance to get married because I might look like a guy, as well as a few of my friends, but I kept going because I found myself in this game.”
However, by staying motivated and consistent in her practice of weightlifting, Hawsawi was able to defy these gendered norms and expectations and won her family’s support. Witnessing her enthusiasm, they matched it with their own and encouraged her to compete in the Saudi Games.
Hasawi made the decision to switch from being a CrossFitter to a weightlifter in 2019 after a coach at the gym noticed how powerful and adept she was at lifting weights.
She believes weightlifting kept her from going through depression since she tends to overthink but is also a hard worker who doesn’t believe in the word “impossible.”
Hawsawi said: “Weightlifting saved me from depression. I wanted to discover something (to) feel good about myself.”
• Hanouf Hawsawi’s weightlifting journey began in 2019. • She has participated in other competitions prior to Saudi Games 2023.
• She aims to continue competing in regional and international championships to represent Saudi Arabia.
• Her practical advice for women who want to train in the sport is to not push themselves when they are fatigued or sleep-deprived.
However, an injury in 2021 kept her out of the gym for six months. Hawsawi’s practical advice for women who want to train in the sport is to not push themselves when they are fatigued or sleep-deprived.
Speaking about the experience, she said: “I did not get much sleep the night before, but I went to training that day with heavy weights and broke my right wrist.”
Although she was advised to halt training for eight months, she returned to the gym after six “and participated in the Saudi Games trial, where I was successful. I told myself that this was just the beginning of my weightlifting career, and I advise everyone not to train when they are tired — it’s okay to skip it and try again the next day.”
Winning fifth place in Saudi Games has motivated Hawsawi to work harder to achieve more medals and titles in the years to come and to pursue her career as a professional Saudi weightlifter.
“I’ll be competing in weightlifting competitions inside Saudi Arabia, setting new records, and representing my nation abroad in competitions where my weight category is represented.”
She noted that her role model in the field is Loredana Toma. “She is a weightlifter from Romania in 71+ kg category. I love everything about her — her strength and technique.”
The Saudi Games are the biggest annual national athletic event in the Kingdom. More than 6,000 athletes compete in the multi-game combined sports tournament, which helps to fulfil several objectives of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030, including inspiring Saudi youth through sports, elevating the standard of living through sporting excellence, and developing a new generation of athletes capable of representing their country.
“Saudi Arabia is supporting sports, (which) is now deemed essential to Vision 2030, and providing significant assistance to Saudi women who participate in sports. This has made it possible for myself and many others to demonstrate our abilities and gain confidence. On achieving our objectives, I can state as a Saudi lady that Saudi women are very ambitious, never give up, and are able to get beyond any obstacle in their way,” Hawsawi noted.
She has joined the ranks of Saudi women inspiring their community to take up challenging sports and to represent their country internationally. Layan Al-Qurashi made Saudi sporting history this year by becoming the first female weightlifter to win a medal at Asian competition level. The athlete took bronzes in the 81 kg category of the snatch and jerk events at the Asian Youth and Junior Weightlifting Championships, held in Delhi.
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