Please tell us a little bit about yourself.
I was born into a very athletically inclined family in Tanzania. Both my parents competed at the highest level of field hockey in the East African country – my dad played for the National team and my mom played across the region. I basically grew up on hockey fields with the love for sport being instilled in me by my entire family. My grandfather played cricket, my mom and aunts played hockey, and my cousins, uncles and dad played soccer. Since there was always some sport or another being watched or talked about at home, it was inevitable that I would follow suit.
We moved to Dubai when I was 4, and for my last 4 years of high school, I captained the soccer and basketball teams, won medals for track & field and inter-collegiate cross-country races, was the Sports Captain and Head of Student Council, and finally – Valedictorian of my graduating class.
I then studied Mechanical Engineering at the American University of Sharjah (AUS) where I won a few track & field medals in varsity competitions and started playing soccer for the Dubai Women’s Football Association (DWFA) when I was 17.
In August 2013, I moved to Toronto with my parents and younger sister and started playing for the George Brown College (GBC) women’s soccer team as well as other co-ed and women’s teams around the GTA.
After graduating with honours from the Mechanical Engineering program in 2016, I played at the Regional, Provincial and League 1 levels for North Mississauga Soccer Club before transferring to Caledon FC this summer.
I now also have a post-grad certificate in Project Management and another in Construction Trades, work 2 jobs – as the Engineering Drafting & Design Technician for an acoustic engineering company, and as the Academic Assistant & Tutor for the Athletics Department at GBC – and volunteer as the Marketing Director for a registered Canadian charity called Deaf Muslims of Canada that works towards providing access to Islamic knowledge to Deaf and Hard of Hearing Muslims in the GTA and around the world through American Sign Language.
I have also been coaching kids from 18 months to U12s at Little Kickers FC and Dixie Soccer Club for the past 3 years on weekends and some weekday evenings.
Please share a story about an internal or external barrier you have faced. How did you overcome that barrier?
Being a 5’3” brown-skinned, hijab-wearing female engineer and athlete has posed its fair share of “challenges”, per se, but there have been a couple of sports-related ones that stand out for me.
In March 2013, I suffered a supposed career-ending injury (a torn meniscus, ruptured quad, and partially torn Achilles in my kicking foot) and was given two options – surgery with the risk of getting Arthritis by the age of 30, or rest for 18 months with meds and intense physio. For obvious reasons, I picked the non-surgery route and spent my days popping pain killers and muscle relaxants (and failing all my Engineering courses that semester while I slept in class 😊).
Unfortunately – and I got this from my dad – I couldn’t stay off the field for too long, and as soon as I felt a little stronger in the summer, was back playing with all sorts of braces and tape holding me together.
Needless to say, because of my stubbornness, I ended up spending most of my first year at GBC on the bench and in physio because I was nowhere near strong enough to play competitively again and my stamina and touches were dreadful, to say the least. After undergoing regular Athletic Therapy and strengthening myself under the scrutiny of the George Brown ATs, I was able to get back on the field in my second year and then ended up exhausting my 5-year varsity eligibility with them, collecting a couple of scholarships and awards before graduating in 2018.
A more recent situation I ran into was during the regular pre-kick-off equipment check at one of the last games of last year’s OWSL summer season, when a referee told me I wasn’t allowed to play because my black tights didn’t match the black and mainly red shorts of my uniform.
In a frenzy, I ran to my car not knowing exactly what I was looking for because I definitely did not have red tights (who does??) in the back of my car.
By the time I ran back to the field ready to unlace my cleats and watch the game from the sidelines, I noticed my teammates (who knew I wore tights and long sleeves for religious reasons and not because I was always cold) were all changing into our other kits with black shorts in the middle of the field while the ref blew his whistle to start the game.
We had first ball and I scored our first goal within the first 5 minutes of that game to thank them.
So, to answer the question on how I overcame those barriers – I didn’t really do it on my own. I’m blessed to have an amazing support system who helped me through it all.
What skills did you develop in sport that helped you overcome your barrier?
Growing up, I was always the shortest kid doing everything. Today, at 5’3”, I’m still usually the shortest in every group; and because I’m “small” (although I prefer the terms “travel/snack size”), I’ve been taken for granted and overlooked a lot, especially in my career. I’ve even been turned down at interviews being told I have all the qualifications on paper, but that I just don’t look like an Engineer.
With sports, though, that doesn’t matter. I may not be the tallest, strongest, or loudest, but I’m definitely one of the most committed.
For the years building up to me playing for the DWFA, I had always wanted to push myself to be a better athlete despite Dubai not having many avenues for women’s sport at the time.
Before I started playing there, I never had any professional training. Besides what we learned in gym class, there was no real tactical or skill training for girls back then. More so, soccer wasn’t a huge sport for females in the UAE, so I picked up everything I knew from the tv and from conversations I had with family and friends.
But if there’s anything I’ve learned through it all, it’s that everything good takes time. If you really care about something, commitment and perseverance are key.
In my life, I hold true to my commitment to God, my family and friends; and in sport, my commitment to my team, my coaches, and – most importantly – myself.
If you had one word to describe your character, experiences or philosophy what would it be? Why?
My commitment comes from my passion. I like doing a lot of things from cooking to playing the guitar to fixing and creating things. And I like doing them well. I’m a self-declared perfectionist and have borderline OCD with certain things, so when I choose to invest my energy into something, my drive to perfect it can be overwhelming at times.
Simply put, my work ethic is to “do it with passion, or not at all”.
If you wanted to motivate a young female athlete to #BuildHerUp, what quote would you use? Why?
US soccer vet Mia Hamm wrote in her book ‘Go for the Goal’:
I think that quote is pretty self-explanatory.
A friend loaned me that book when I got injured, and that line struck a chord with me. It governed the amount of effort I put into my training to get back into the game, and still reminds me why I do what I do, so I think it could be motivating for other young athletes as well.