Fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad will make history at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro when she becomes the first United States athlete to compete in the international games wearing a hijab — a headscarf worn by some Muslim women. The 30-year-old New Jersey native secured her spot on the U.S. fencing team competing in Rio after an event in Athens, Greece, last week.
Muhammad, a saber fencer, already made history when she became the first Muslim woman to compete for the U.S. She started fencing at age 13 after being introduced to the sport by family.
"My parents were looking for a sport for me to play where I wouldn’t have to alter the uniform as a Muslim woman," Muhammad told BuzzFeed, referencing the fact that a fencer’s uniform the covers the body completely. She went on to become a three-time All-American at Duke University in North Carolina.
"After I graduated from college, I saw there was a lack of minorities in the sport," she told TeamUSA.org. "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."
— Ibtihaj Muhammad (@IbtihajMuhammad) January 15, 2016
Muhammad attempted to qualify for the 2012 Olympics but suffered a hand injury along the way. In 2014, she founded a clothing company called Louella aimed at making "modest, fashion-forward clothing."
Participating in the 2016 Olympics will be the realization of a lifetime of work for Muhammad. "When most people picture an Olympic fencer, they probably do not imagine a person like me. Fortunately, I am not most people," her bio on U.S. Fencing's website reads. "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."