Why this Muslim American fencer is trending

Published: August 13, 2016
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PHOTO: Reuters

PHOTO: Reuters

As Ibtihaj Muhammad gears up for fencing quarter-finals, the world is intrigued more and more by the Muslim American Olympian.

Ibtihaj is the first American athlete to compete at the Olympics wearing a hijab. Encouraged by her parents to participate in all sports, she grew up like any other American kid. She took part in everything from tennis to track and field. But while her teammates wore short-sleeved shirts and shorts, Ibtihaj was always dressed more conservatively.

“I just remember being singled out because I was different,” she said.

Ibtihaj never felt like a part of the team until she discovered fencing.

“That was the first time in my life, being involved in fencing, that I was in uniform with everyone else,” she said.

“In fencing, I’ve always loved my sport once I put my mask on, I’m like everyone else. My uniform doesn’t seem different in any way. People don’t see I’m African-American in a sport that isn’t diverse, or that I’m a Muslim woman in a sport that isn’t diverse. I’m just solely known for my kind of athletic ability first and foremost.”

Although failing to qualify for the 2012 Olympics, Ibtihaj, who has trained for years, is finally a member of Team USA.

Ibtihaj says she is finding herself becoming a spokesperson for diversity and acceptance for brands such as Visa.

According to Chris Curtin, chief brand and innovation marketing officer for Visa, the company chose the fencer to be one of the faces of Team Visa during the 2016 Olympics because she represented a multifaceted athlete with a unique story.

Besides representing the US in sports, Ibtihaj takes pride in her clothing business having American roots. The athlete runs Louella, a modern but modest clothing line for women.

In February 2016, US President Barack Obama also paid tribute to Ibtihaj during his speech at the Islamic Society of Baltimore mosque.

This article originally appeared on CNBC

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