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It was two years ago when Amna Al Haddad, while training for the Rio summer Olympics, got the call: Nike wanted to sponsor her and give her a starring role in its “Inner Strength” series featuring inspiring athletes.
Al Haddad certainly fit the bill: The now 27-year-old Dubai woman is a former journalist who turned a decision to get healthier and go to the gym into a pioneering competitive weightlifting career. She’s also a Muslim who comes from a region that discourages women from becoming athletes and requires them to adhere to the religion’s dictates on modest dress.
When Al Haddad, who proudly wears the Muslim head covering known as a hijab—even when she competes—got to Nike’s training campus, the company’s research team was keen to find ways to help her improve her performance. Experts from the sports lab cast her foot in plaster and hooked her up to machines to study every inch of her body in motion. While she appreciated all this high-tech analysis, her most fundamental need as an athlete was much more basic: she needed a hijab that would stay in place and not make her sweat as much.
They were studying me from the neck down, not from the neck up,” Al Haddad tells Fast Company. “But when we sat down to talk about the challenges of sportswear in my field, I brought up the idea of a sports hijab and how it could help Muslim athletes around the world.”