Running, life and freedom: Najla's story

#stronglikeawoman

Najla Aqdeir, a 25-year-old track and field athlete of Libyan and Moroccan descent, has been in Italy since the age of ten. Determined and full of youthful ideals, she encourages young women to live life fearlessly and follow their dreams. Her dynamic strength to overcome hardships, even against some of the most unthinkable adversities, is a true inspiration. Her life story is an example of how through dedication, commitment and sports, women can reap the benefits of happiness, fulfillment and ultimately to be victorious against life’s hardest battles, without forgetting those less fortunate.
For Najla: “To run means energy, strength and fun,” a reflective synthesis from Strong Like a Woman, the courageous narrative of female empowerment in sports. Najla’s greatest passion is sport and it motivates her every day. Ever since she was a child and her mother would ask her to go to the store for something, she would affront it like a personal competition; a race against herself to run as fast as possible to get the task down. Upon first arriving in Italy when she was 10, it became clear right away at school Najla most easily integrated and socialized with her classmates during physical education classes, one of the moments when she felt her happiest and the freedom to express her true self.
During Middle school, she started to participate (and win) in student track competitions. Soon, running became her thing, her space, her talent. From that moment, Najla began to train more seriously and with that her love for sports grew. But on top of all the normal adolescent difficulties most girls experience, Najla had to deal with her parents’ growing opposition towards her passion to practice sport and the Western customs of her peers. “For me it felt so natural and normal to participate in sports, be part of a team, compete and even run-in shorts. My parents, on the other hand, couldn’t come to terms with it.”

A life full of hurdles and obstacles

From that moment on, her relationship with her parents became more and more conflicted, conditioned by additional life events. In 2010, she was brought to Morocco by her mother who had secretly promised Najla’s hand in marriage to an older man. With great strength and determination, Najla courageously rebelled against this by traveling back to Italy. Upon her return, Najla had to affront some of the darkest and most difficult moments in her young life. At just sixteen years old and pinned against the wrath of her parents’ adversity, she moved away from home and her family. This extreme gesture represented a kind of personal rebirth for Najla who then immediately went back to training and the rediscovery for her first love – running- ensued. Sports had become her future and her destiny. Finally, her freedom was on the horizon.

Najla’s greatest strength lies not only in her physical attributes but also her mental capabilities. For her, running is like going to the psychologist or personal support therapist: “Running forces you to listen to yourself. It's an involuntary exam of individual consciousness.” When she is reminded of the suffering and loneliness that she has endured from her past, one of her secret weapons is to smile. “To smile is key to everything.” She continues to say that her life has been a series of hurdles, but with the possibility to pursue her passions and goals, she now has the additional strength to affront those obstacles head on.

Thanks to sports, I have rediscovered my identity. My job is my passion.

Today Najla trains to reach her personal goals while also training others. A renowned running coach with a large social media following, her incredible energy and dynamic smile continues to transmit an ongoing and important positive message of encouragement for those who are struggling, that goes beyond pure athletic performance.

Sports create community

Thanks to her experience through sports, Najla is able to help those less fortunate through active volunteering through athletic classes and activities. She adds, “Life is like a race. There is always another chance, another possibility.” The champion track star also affirms that one of her greatest ongoing personal challenges is to obtain her Italian citizenship, which is still on hold due to a past conviction she received in her native birthplace and blocks her possibility to represent the Italian national tricolors in international competitions.

Despite this frustrating situation, she continues to pursue her dreams and career as a professional female track star. Between her daily training of stretching and running, she never stops pushing her limits. When asked what she does for a living, she will always reply: “I run, I live for running, my career is to run.” To all those women who face adversity and inequality, she shares some of her most experienced learnings: “The obstacle must not be avoided or simply jumped over but faced head on and overcome.” This is also the driving force and motto behind her Milan sports program offered to a community of young single girls who live away from their families and share the desire to train in freedom and unity that only women are capable of conquering.

The obstacle should not be jumped, but tackled and overcome.

Najla is part of the team of trainers who set up the Technogym Sessions, which are real training sessions led by experienced, present and engaging trainers. And that's just one of the areas where Najla brings her cheerfulness, motivation and desire to overcome obstacles.

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