Norton Seal Ibtihaj Muhammad fencing.

Support for Your Dream

Fencing, Fashion and Fearless Dreaming

Hearing “no” over and over is defeating for most. But for Ibtihaj Muhammad, it provided a powerful source of motivation to prove what she’s capable of. At an early age, she faced bigotry and bullying based on her appearance and misconceptions about her religion. Being young, black and wearing a headscarf, or a hijab, Ibtihaj didn’t resemble many kids in school — much less others in the sport of fencing.

Being flexible and persistent in her sport allowed Ibtihaj to build on her talents and shatter the limited view of what an American fencer should look like. But it all started with hard work — and staying true to who she is.

Her advice to those facing similar challenges? “You are enough as you are. You don’t need to be what other people think you should be.”

Ibtihaj approaches life with strength, grace and passion in all that she does, both on and off the court. She inspires us to dream fearlessly — watch to see how she broke through.

  1. KATHY IRELAND: Hi this is Kathy Ireland. Welcome to Breakthrough Dream Fearlessly, presented by our partners at American Family Insurance.

    KATHY IRELAND: BREAK / THROUGH, presented by American Family Insurance

    KATHY IRELAND: This episode celebrates an amazing young woman. American, Olympian, sabre fencer, published author, entrepreneur and the first person to compete for the United States and the Olympics while wearing a hijab. Ibtihaj Muhammad. We're going to have a very candid conversation welcome Ibtihaj.

    IBTIHAJ MUHAMMAD: Thank you.

    KATHY IRELAND: What challenges did you break through to realize your dreams?

    IBTIHAJ MUHAMMAD: So much of my story is and my journey — is combatting other people's misconceptions — that they have about someone who looks like me. What I love about being told “No” is how to have the opportunity to show people what I'm capable.

    IBTIHAJ MUHAMMAD: I’ve found motivation and in in people doubting me. I remember even in the sport of fencing people just not thinking that I belong because I…I didn't that that traditional image of what a fencer looks like. It being a predominantly white sport and here I was — a you know young black kid — who wore hijab, who knew nothing about this sport initially I was and I was no good.

    IBTIHAJ MUHAMMAD: It took me changing weapons at the age of 16. There's three weapons in fencing and my team needed a sabre fencer. I was so good at it from the moment that I started. And what I loved most about it was that I could continue to build from this talent that I had in, in my weapon. And it all stemmed from just working hard and trying to show people what I was capable of.

    KATHY IRELAND: Ibtihaj, can you speak more about what you've received from your mentors your — your partner's friends and family in pursuit of your dreams?

    IBTIHAJ MUHAMMAD: I have an amazing support system and my family more than anything keeps you humble. I don't think we talked about the Olympic medal for more than like 10 minutes. It was like, onto the next thing. So they keep you modest and keep you humble, but it's, it's — it's always been more fun than anything growing up in such a large family.

    KATHY IRELAND: What would you say to a young person who is experiencing discrimination experiencing bigotry and someone who may not have coaches and mentors in their life who let them know that they can do it? What would you say to them?

     IBTIHAJ MUHAMMAD: I would say you know to stay strong. Don't ever let anyone make you feel as if you don't belong. That you yourself — as you were born and as you exist — that there's something wrong with you? Because there's not. Know that there are people in your life who love you. There are people who care about you. Not everyone is — is mean not everyone is a bigot. Not everyone you know is a bully.

    IBTIHAJ MUHAMMAD: And you are enough as you are. You don't need to be what other people think you should be. You're enough.

    KATHY IRELAND: Thank you for joining us today — for giving us great inspiration. For breaking through and dreaming fearlessly, for American Family Insurance. Thanks.

    IBTIHAJ MUHAMMAD: Thank you.

    On screen: Insure carefully, dream fearlessly. American Family Insurance.

Dream Achieved, Dreams Inspired

Ibtihaj Muhammad is an entrepreneur, activist, speaker and Olympic medalist in fencing. A 2016 Olympic bronze medalist, 5-time Senior World medalist and World Champion, in 2016, Ibtihaj became the first American woman to compete in the Olympics in hijab. Ibtihaj was a 3-time All American at Duke University where she graduated with a dual major in International Relations and African Studies. In 2014, she launched her own clothing company, Louella, to bring modest, fashionable and affordable clothing to the United States. In 2018, Mattel produced their first hijabi Barbie, modeled in Ibtihaj’s likeness, as part of Barbie’s “Shero” line of dolls. Ibtihaj also released her debut memoir in 2018, “PROUD: My Fight for an Unlikely American Dream.”

Achieving dreams is just the beginning — Ibtihaj is just as fearless when it comes to inspiring others. She serves as a sports ambassador with the U.S. Department of State’s Empowering Women and Girls through Sport Initiative. And she works closely with organizations like Athletes for Impact and the Special Olympics. Named to Time Magazine’s “100 Most Influential People,” Ibtihaj is an important figure in the larger global discussion on equality and the importance of sport, and her voice continues to unite both the sports and non-sports world.

Unexpected Opportunity

Ibtihaj’s large family is incredibly supportive of her fencing career and accomplishments while helping her stay grounded and humble.

Her parents believed in the power of sports to help their kids integrate in the community and strengthen their support networks. Like many Muslim women and girls, Ibtihaj wears the hijab as an expression of modesty and in devotion to her faith — it’s an important part of who she is as a person. But, it doesn’t work well with many sports uniforms, and fitting in with her teammates was a unique challenge. From basketball, to swimming to track and field, she tried them all. Then one day Ibtihaj and her mom drove by a fencing team practice, and they and saw the athletes in full-body uniforms. The opportunity clicked, and Ibtihaj’s fencing dream took shape at age 13.

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Related Topics: Passions , Personal Development