Fatima Sulaiman Dahman was born on 10th of November 1992 in Taiz, Yemen to Abdullah Sulaiman Dahman and Zahra Brek Abdullah Al Zubedi. Little did they know at the time that their daughter will be representing Yemen at the 2012 Olympics in London.
For Fatima, there were many obstacles to overcome, before reaching the Olympics in London. Hailing from Yemen where the country was swarming with internal tribal conflicts and facing debilitating political war. Life in Yemen was absorbed around survival.
With literally no budget for trainers or fitness plans, lack of facilities and resources, Fatima’s ground reality of becoming an Athlete were very grim; despite all the odds stacked against her, for Fatima to reach the Olympics is a story of sheer determination and will.
What made you decide to become a runner?
I always loved running, whether it was playing games at school or running after children; I was quick on my feet. A teacher in school took notice and signed me up for a running competition in school. I ran and did really well, I continued competing and within 2 years was selected nationally for competitions within Yemen.
I competed in close to 50 competitions at the national level and mostly holding top scores; I was noticed and offered to compete internationally too.
Was your family supportive?
Well, if it wasn’t for my parents I think none of this would be possible. My father is a Yemeni and comes from a very conservative background, my Mother is half Yemeni and half African and she is very encouraging of empowering girls. My mother was with me every step of the way, she did for me what even the best coach couldn’t do. She constantly believed in me, even when I wasn’t sure, she always was. When I was tired and wanted to drop the towel, she held me up and motivated me to think the unthinkable and to do the impossible. She didn’t just make me dream big, but once I started competing nationally, more than 20 other girls joined the sports, we were opening doors that were once closed to females.
Where my mother fed my soul, my Father educated me about physical strength and health, he is a Pharmacist by profession and he guided me about nutrition and how to take care of my body to compete in the grueling conditions.
How did your community react?
Initially, everyone was very skeptical and critical of my choice to be a runner. They had never seen a Muslim Hijabi athlete, it was unheard off at the time and I was under a microscope. It’s only recently that brands have taken consideration of female Muslim athletes and started designing sportswear that is more modest. But when I was starting off, it was me against the world and my community followed all my competitions closely, from what I wore to how I scored, when they saw that I was representing a positive side to the country, I gained their respect and truly enjoy the overwhelming fan following from my hometown.
What’s been your biggest learning as an Athlete?
I was a teen when competing on a national level and just 19yrs old when I got to the Olympics. For me, being in sports changed my life, it opened my world to other cultures, I met people from across the globe, different faces and different races. We all came together with a vision to make our country proud, to work hard to prove our self. The amount of self-discipline and dedication that an Olympian has to go through can either make you or break you. I am grateful that it made me who I am today, I am a woman with so much gratitude to be given the opportunity to realize my dream and compete in the highest playing field in the world, the Olympics!
Note by the Author:
I had always been a fan of Fatima but my meeting her was a sheer coincidence. I had been visiting my sister in Vancouver (April 2019) and while I was there, I signed up to volunteer my time at the local mosque. While, I was packing food items – next to me stood none other than the Olympian runner Fatima Sulaiman Dahman. I instantly requested her for a quick interview and she politely accepted. Fatima had to relocate from Yemen to Canada in 2015, due to war and unrest in her hometown. She now resides in Vancouver with her husband and one daughter. Even though she no longer is competing professionally, she offers fitness training to the ladies in the community on a volunteer basis. Such is the heart of this beautiful athlete, which continues to inspire and support everyone around her.
Feel free to share your feedback on the interview at Zareen@w2wevents.com