Shaikha Al Qassemi

  • WordsAmira Asad
  • PhotographerNarisa Ladak
  • Assistant photographerMohamed Abdel Waheb
  • VideographerAqib Anwar
  • StylistMashael Alsaie

Shaikha Al Qassemi doesn’t want to talk on the Instagram fitness world. ‘That will get me in a lot of trouble,’ she laughs. She’s just arrived from a fitness conference in Abu Dhabi and runs straight to the bag of Haribo gummies before jumping straight into the interview. A CrossFit athlete and trainer, founder of Dubai’s The Platform Gym, and a Red Bull athlete, Shaikha is exactly the person you’d trust to speak on the online fitness and health world that often times ripples into peoples lives in dangerous ways, from the promotions of diet fads by unprofessionals to exercise posts with improper form. But she has her core followers who’ve supported and followed her journey, both in the virtual world and in reality, and it’s apparent that with Shaikha what you see is what you get – authenticity.

Shaikha’s career path is far from conventional. Publically, she’s the first Emirati CrossFit athlete (though she says there are a few, who she can’t name, who practiced and trained others both locally and internationally before her). ‘I was the first one to put myself out there, to take pictures and videos and post myself actually training online,’ she says. ‘It was unheard of in the Arab world and a lot of people were shocked by it – everybody was kind of like what is she doing or how can she put herself out there like that? She’s not covered? A lot of these things were coming up, it was pretty hard for me in the beginning but seeing how social media has changed this [mentality] now is pretty amazing.’ She credits her life coach Sultana for encouraging her and helping her change the way she thinks and uses her energy. ‘When I first started I was always fighting to prove myself to people, and then slowly over the years I started putting my guard down and being myself instead of fighting against something, because there was nothing to fight against.’

Shaikha regularly shares her workout routines, her failures and her progress with her nearly 25,000 Instagram followers. And it can be said that she has, in some way, helped pave the path for other Emirati women to compete and pursue careers in fitness. Today, a simple Google search yields a handful of Emirati women who compete in CrossFit competitions, including Muneera Al Hubail and Abeer Alkhaja. It’s important in her own practice, she says, as a gym owner to make room for women and to consider their comforts, providing exclusive womens spaces as well as co-ed. ‘We have had women who are not even covered join the ladies classes because they prefer to be around women because they feel more motivated they feel like they have better support. I have other women who actually prefer to join the co-ed classes because they feel like they want to be pushed more from the men’s side.’

A competitor in the CrossFit Games since 2013, beginning the same year she left her office job (‘I was bored’), today Shaikha ranks 3rd in the the Gulf in two categories. Her gut decision to leave the office world behind has proven to be fruitful. In addition to coaching and opening a gym, she’s been approached for other business opportunities, including a brand ambassador position for Canadian activewear line Lululemon. ‘My life motto now is that I will not conform to your normal, I will create my own normal,’ she says. The words resonate with her, vibrate. ‘It wasn’t normal for people to see me the way that I am, but it was normal for me because I felt like I was myself within that element. I’ve just continued to be myself and over the years I’ve gained more support and love and push from all the people that are around me.’

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