Tall, slender and graceful, Nehad Sulaimani is not your typical black belt in karate.
“During my childhood, I lived abroad with my parents. They noticed how active I was in school and encouraged me to try different sports. From then on, the seed was planted and now, I am in love with sport,” she smiles, recalling those early days at the age of 8.
Most Saudi women witnessed previous generations, who did not practice structured sport yet remain relatively fit. The reason, of course, is that many of their grandmothers had a more active lifestyle than we do today.
In a more passive, digital world, sport is increasingly important to replace that active existence. As part of Vision 2030, physical education was formally incorporated into girls’ public schools in Saudi Arabia in 2017.
The Kingdom’s drive to encourage more women into sports continued with the appointment of Princess Reema bint Bandar as the first woman to head the Saudi Federation for Community Sports.
Since 2014, Sulaimani has trained with coach Rawan Zahran, professional trainer and founder of Sweat Army gym. She also trains with US fitness icon Alexia Clarke.
While Sulaimani has a black belt in karate, she also became the captain of the Saudi women’s basketball team — the first women’s team to play at Al-Jawhara Stadium in Jeddah.
“I tell young girls if they want to have a good life and good body, doing exercise is important for physical and mental health. Eating healthy food goes hand in hand with that,” Sulaimani stressed.
She added that finding an appropriate area to exercise in was important to increase its effectiveness, as well as one’s own enjoyment: “Walking and jogging on the Corniche in Jeddah is lovely, especially during cooler times of the day.”
With the abundance of gyms and sport facilities in Saudi Arabia for women, there is no excuse for not exercising or engaging in physical activity.
Saudi women have participated in the Olympics and have founded teams in different sports.
The Kingdom even has a woman racing driver, Reema Juffali, who made history representing her country in the 2019 F4 British Championship.
As for social media, it has proven to be a powerful tool for exchanging ideas and an excellent way to reach out to the public. Sulaimani uses it to help others with exercise by posting demonstration videos.
“Social media allows me to show others my class. I give them workout ideas and explore various exercise moves,” Sulaimani continued.
She has also made time to establish her own magazine for mothers and children to nurture their health and fitness.
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