Ibtihaj Muhammad got her Olympic dream under way this week in Rio de Janeiro. The New Jersey native is a Muslim and on Monday officially became the first American to compete in the games wearing a hijab.
The United States fencer has a story unlike any other. She's been competing in the United States' fencing team for six years but just missed out on making the 2012 team. From then on, Muhammad had one goal in mind: Rio 2016.
"I didn't make it to the 2012 Olympics and people kept calling me an Olympian," she said, according to Rolling Stone. "I was with a friend once and this little girl came up and said 'Oh it's the Muslim Olympian' and my friend said 'you know, she wasn't in the Olympics' and from that point on I made it my goal. I would never have someone deny me that."
Four years later, nobody can deny her: Muhammad is an Olympian. She's scheduled to compete starting Monday morning, in what she's described as a "defining moment." It's particularly poignant for her considering it's an especially tenuous time to be a Muslim-American. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has proposed banning all Muslims from entering the country.
"I am excited to challenge the stereotypes and misconceptions people have about Muslim women, I want to show people that we can not only be on any Olympic team, but on the U.S. Olympic team which is the strongest of the world's teams," Muhammad said, according to the BBC.
She's become a role model for young people everywhere and was named by Time Magazine as one of the 100 most influential people of 2016. Muhammad also has met with U.S. President Barack Obama and even gave First Lady Michelle Obama a fencing lesson.
She has said she hopes to make a social impact and said the late Muhammad Ali is a major inspiration for her life. The 30-year-old Duke University graduate has been focused largely on the games since arriving in Rio, but has said her goals extend far outside the short time she'll compete in Rio. She has even taken on Trump.
"I think his words are very dangerous," Muhammad told CNN last week. "When these types of comments are made, no one thinks about how they really affect people. I’m African-American. I don’t have another home to go to. My family was born here. I was born here. I’ve grown up in Jersey. All my family’s from Jersey. It’s like, well, where do we go?"