New Jersey native and star athlete Ibtihaj Muhammad is no stranger to making history in women’s saber fencing. She was the first Muslim woman to compete for the U.S in fencing and is now on her way to the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, for another historical moment as the first U.S. athlete to compete at the Olympics in a hijab.
The 30-year-old fencer has already had a great season, earning bronze medals at two of the three world cups held so far. The United States fencing team won’t officially be announced until April 11, but after earning bronze at the Athens world cup on Saturday, Muhammad earned enough points to ensure her spot on the 2016 Olympic team.
Not only known for her amazing sportsmanship but also for her attire and religious head covering, Ibtihaj’s started fencing in high school and because the sport’s uniform covers the body, it made her and her family comfortable with the decision. “My parents were looking for a sport for me to play where I wouldn’t have to alter the uniform as a Muslim woman,” she said in a recent interview with Buzzfeed.The standout student began taking her athletic career seriously while attending Duke University, where she double-majored in International Relations and African-American studies.
Ibtihaj also recognizes that she is creating representation in a sport not only due to her religious garb but as a black woman in general. “After I graduated from college, I saw there was a lack of minorities in the sport,” she recently shared. “I recognized that I had a skill set, so I started to pursue fencing full time. I felt that it was something the squad needed. There were barriers that needed to be broken in women’s saber.”
She is now second in USA fencing’s national team point standings, right after two-time Olympic champion Mariel Zagunis. Ibtihaj is set to compete in both the individual and team event, along with one other U.S. women’s saber fencer.
I want to compete in the Olympics for the United States to prove that nothing should hinder anyone from reaching their goals — not race, religion or gender. I want to set an example that anything is possible with perseverance.
In addition to earning bronzes during the 2015-16 season, the skilled fencer also won a silver medal at a world cup stop in 2013, and has seven team world cup medals in total. Ibtihaj has also been part of the U.S. teams that have medaled at the past five world championships, including winning gold in 2014. She attempted to qualify for the 2012 Olympics, but was unable to after she tore a ligament in her hand just months before the competition.
A photo posted by Ibtihaj Muhammad (@ibtihajmuhammad) on
Aside from making waves in the sport’s world, Ibtihaj unique dress code has inspired her to delve into fashion. In 2014, she launched Louella with her sisters, an online women’s clothing company dedicated to creating “affordable, modest, fashion forward clothing.” She also recently announced a partnership with Dick’s Sporting Goods. Fearlessly breaking barriers and daring to set new trends, it seems the future holds amazing things for this sports star.