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Manal Rostom at Technogym Village: the courage to go against the tide

Manal Rostom, she is 39 years old and an Egyptian athlete living in Dubai. Currently a full-time personal trainer, influencer and reference figure on the international sports scene, she came to visit us at Technogym Village, where she trained with our formats and products and told us something about her.
Manal's career has not always been like this: about three years ago she had a full-time job as a pharmacist but has always been passionate about fitness, in June 2016, she decided to change course by dedicating herself to full-time sports and becoming Nike's face as the first athlete with hijab and protagonist in the Nike Middle East campaign. These passions and goals led to the creation of Surviving Hijab, a Facebook group designed for women in the Middle East, which aims to create a safe space to share stories and provide a comfortable environment for those who want to know the culture.
Challenging stereotypes and achieving goals to be an example to girls who want to embrace their culture and religion by wearing the hijab without feeling judged, this is the goal of Manal and Surviving Hijab, created for hijaby women and full of motivation, inspiration and advice. Every day Manal constantly fights the negative stereotypes she has faced since she decided to wear a hijab at the age of 21.
Last September 2018 she won the Facebook award for leadership of the Facebook community. This initiative launched by Mark Zuckerberg was aimed at strengthening community leaders, so anyone running a group or page can feel like a leader, guiding people to start an online movement. Manal's mission, however, is not limited to being online only but also offline: to date, through the Facebook page, 14 women have trained with her and have reached the base camp of Everest in groups. Many of them had never seen a mountain before.

My success dates back to the days when I founded my group on Facebook Surviving Hijab whose only rule is to respect a woman's choice and the right to exercise her faith in the way she prefers. no judgment is allowed, the only objective is to help women feel authorised to wear the hijab or not.

This was the first project conducted by the group Surviving Hijab: Manal tells us that she is currently working on two docufilms. The first will be about Everest's base camp experience and the difficulties she had on the mountain. A 20-minute documentary on the challenges she faced with the group and the emotions she felt, speaking directly to the camera. The second, entitled "Beyond The Veil", allows people to go beyond appearances and not to judge a woman from the outside without knowing her story.

All of Manal's achievements

To date, Manal has run 13 international marathons and climbed seven mountains. As for the marathons, she was the first Egyptian woman to run the marathon of the Chinese wall. She is currently the first Egyptian to finish five of the six major marathons: London, Chicago, New York, Boston and Berlin. There is still Tokyo in her projects, it is one of her dreams. Passionate about mountaineering she was the first Egyptian woman to climb two of the seven highest mountains in the world, including the Kilimanjaro and the French side of Mont Blanc. Mountaineering and running are the two disciplines she prefers and on which she trains.

Many people ask me: why don't you train for an ironman?
My answer is: I don't know, I don't enjoy myself.

I have a lot of fun when I train on the Climb where you can spend 45 minutes, an hour and do a lot of work. It's one of the best machines to prepare for mountain challenges. To this I add the high intensity cardio training, the bootcamp and running of course, because it's my passion.
When you train, do you run outdoors or on treadmills?
Both, but unfortunately I had to abandon the long treadmill sessions because of a recent knee problem. I don't have problems running outdoors even if it's very hot where I live and especially at certain times of the year when it's also wet. When I raced in Berlin in September 2018 the temperatures were very high and everyone complained, but for me it was perfect because I'm used to it. In addition to running, I try to do a lot of stretching and yoga a couple of times a week, it is very useful.
In October 2018, due to an injury, Manal had to leave the race for a short time. She had just participated in the Berlin marathon followed by the Chicago marathon and then the Mont Blanc climb.

The doctor recommended three months of rest during which I did indoor cycling sessions and a lot of rehabilitation. Now I'm fine and I'm ready to go ahead.

Women and sport in the Middle East

For many girls practicing some sport activities there can be daily difficulties, both economic and cultural, which are solved through dedicated initiatives and the ability to make groups with other girls of the same age. In Cairo there are many luxury clubs and gyms, but the cost of subscriptions makes them accessible only to the richest, while the public sports centres are dominated by men.
How do girls train in the Emirates?
There is still a stigma and some women do not feel at ease for two factors: one is the mixed gyms, many prefer classes of women only because they are not at peace with their body and weight. Many of them think that men could look at them and judge them, but I try to tell them that in the gym you train it doesn’t matter how you are, what you look like or what you wear. Everyone is focused on their things. The third thing is the belief that it is impossible to train because of the hijab. Of course, it's hotter for us than for the rest of the world who train in the gym, but in the end we're all sweaty as we train. That's why in Dubai, in the Middle East, women's classes are very popular. And for example, we have a place called Dubai Ladies Club, which is for women only. There is also a beach for women only, which is great, of course, because I can go swimming in my bikini.

The athlete's clothing

The issue of clothing remains, despite the many other issues that revolve around Arab sports, central to the press and public opinion, also because of the regulations that often prohibit athletes from competing with the veil.

The sports scene is certainly growing in the Middle East. More women are encouraged to train or participate in very long races or competitions thanks to the support of brands that offer appropriate clothing including a hijab suitable for sports.

This is crucial to the success of a performance in a race. Now, with the support of companies that provide clothing for proper training, wearing the hijab is no longer an impediment and you can no longer say "I don't know what to wear in the gym": this, in fact, is one of the biggest excuses for women in the Middle East. In the West, it's so obvious that you have the right accessories for your training that these factors are not taken into account at all.
Some people ask me "How do you always get dressed so well?" I spend time finding the right model, material and equipment for what I want to do, whether it's running or climbing. I treat the sport as if it were an event, for each marathon I think about the colour of the hijab to wear, I want to look good on those occasions.

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