Before even scoring a point, Ibtihaj Muhammad will make history this summer in Rio de Janeiro by being the first U.S. athlete to compete at the Olympics in a hijab, the headscarf worn by Muslim women.
Muhammad, an African American women’s saber fencer, first made history several years ago when she became the first Muslim woman to compete for the U.S. in fencing. Now that she has qualified for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, Muhammad is making history once more.
“I want to compete in the Olympics for the United States to prove that nothing should hinder anyone from reaching their goals — not race, religion or gender,” Muhammad says in her USA Fencing bio. “I want to set an example that anything is possible with perseverance.”
The 30-year-old fencer has been on fire this season, earning bronze medals at two of the three world cups held so far. After earning bronze at the Athens world cup on Saturday, Muhammad mathematically secured her spot on the 2016 Olympic team.
She is now second in USA Fencing’s national team point standings, behind two-time Olympic champion Mariel Zagunis. Zagunis and Muhammad will remain first and second through April 11, when the points standings conclude and the entire 2016 U.S. Olympic Fencing Team is named. Zagunis and Muhammad will compete in both the individual and team event, along with one other U.S. women’s saber fencer, and a replacement athlete for the team event only.
In addition to Muhammad’s bronzes from the 2015-16 season, she claimed the silver medal at a world cup stop in 2013, and has seven team world cup medals. Muhammad has also been part of the U.S. teams that have medaled at the past five world championships, including winning gold in 2014.
Muhammad attempted to qualify for the 2012 Olympics, but that dream was thwarted when she tore a ligament in her hand months before the Games.
The New Jersey native began fencing at age 13 when her mother saw the high school fencing team practicing and noticed the athletes were fully-covered, a necessity in Muhammad’s religion.
It wasn’t until her career at Duke University that Muhammad began to fully commit to the sport.
“After I graduated from college, I saw there was a lack of minorities in the sport,” Muhammad told TeamUSA.org. “I recognized that I had a skill set, so I started to pursue fencing full time. I felt that it was something the squad needed. There were barriers that needed to be broken in women’s saber.”
In 2014, Muhammad founded Louella, an online women’s clothing company dedicated to creating “affordable, modest, fashion forward clothing.”