RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - The U.S. Olympic Fencing Team held a press conference on Aug. 4, and team member Ibtihaj Muhammad thanked her hometown of Maplewood for their support. Muhammad, who is ranked second in the U.S. and No. 12 in the world in Women's Saber, made her Olympic debut as the first U.S. athlete to compete in a hijab.
"I've never felt so much support from my hometown. I've always grown up in a really diverse environment back in Maplewood. They've been so supportive from beginning until end. There's a huge banner hanging of me in my town right now just in support, so I feel the love all the way here in Brazil," stated Muhammad, acccording to a release from U.S.A. Fencing.
In addition to the support of Maplewood, Muhammad discussed at the press conference what it means to be representing New Jersey in the Olympics, "I know everybody on this stage that's from New Jersey, we all were involved in our sport very early, going to public high school in New Jersey. When I look at Team USA, from Carli Lloyd, Jordan Burroughs, and all of us. it's phenomenal we have such good representation coming from our state and I think that is a tribute to the really great sports programs that we have available to us."
Muhammad also commented on what it's like making history as the first U.S. woman to qualify for the U.S. Olympic Team wearing a hijab. Muhammad stated, "it's been a truly rewarding experience to not just be a member of Team USA and qualify for such a prestigious team, but also to represent so many different people from around the world. I feel like this is a great opportunity and a great moment for Team USA to even be more diverse than we have in the past, and I'm just looking forward to representing myself, my community and also my country in a few days."
Also discussed were the challenges Muhammad has faced. At the press conference she said, "I remember very early on in my sport being told that I didn't belong because I was African-American or there were things that I couldn't do because I was Muslim. I know that not everybody has the same strength and can easily be deterred by comments or adversities that they face when they're younger. So I'm hoping that in the obstacles that I've faced and just being very vocal and verbal about these obstacles and why I feel that they're wrong, that I can inspire the younger generation to continue in face of these comments or misconceptions that people have about who they are."
"I think that's something we can all relate to, growing up and being picked on and being bullied. I think it's important that we speak up on these and we challenge them and encourage our youth to follow their dreams," stated Muhammad.
After the Olympic Games Muhammad hopes that "just my presence on Team USA changes the misconceptions that people have about the Muslim community. A lot of people have this one idea of who Muslims are, like what a Muslim woman even looks like. I think that who I am just challenges and breaks all those stereotypes and those misconceptions just by simply standing in place and being a member of Team USA."
Muhammad also commented that she hopes that "fencing will become even more diverse in the coming years."
The New Jersey Fencing Alliance and the Township of Maplewood have organized viewing parties on Mon., Aug. 8 and Sat., Aug. 13, when Muhammad will be competing in Individual and Team Saber events, respectively. For more details, click here.