UAE: Meet 22-year-old Emirati Jiu-Jitsu athlete breaking barriers for people with disabilities

Unfazed by hearing impairment, Hamda Alshkeili is all set to represent the UAE National Team at the 2024 Jiu-Jitsu Asian Championship taking place in Abu Dhabi


Somya Mehta

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Published: Thu 2 May 2024, 5:54 PM

Last updated: Fri 3 May 2024, 1:16 PM

In the world of sports, the adage ‘mind over matter’ holds profound significance, illustrating how individuals often transcend physical barriers to achieve greatness. While physical prowess undoubtedly plays a crucial role, it is often the strength of the mind that distinguishes champions from contenders.

Through unwavering dedication, mental fortitude, and relentless perseverance, athletes navigate through pain, fatigue, and adversity, pushing themselves beyond their perceived limitations. They cultivate a mindset of resilience, channelling setbacks into opportunities for growth.

Unhindered by such physical constraints, Hamda Alshkeili is an Emirati athlete whose journey remains fuelled by the power of the human mind and an unwavering spirit, rather than the physicality of her body. Despite being born with hearing impairment, the 22-year-old Purple belt in Jiu-Jitsu proudly represents the UAE Jiu-Jitsu National Team.

In 2023, Hamda clinched the gold medal at the Jiu-Jitsu Asian Championship in Bangkok, Thailand. Currently gearing up to defend her title, she eagerly anticipates the championship in Abu Dhabi, scheduled to take place from May 3-8, kickstarting this weekend.

Set to unfold at the Mubadala Arena in Abu Dhabi, the event organised by the Jiu-Jitsu Asian Union and hosted by the UAE Jiu-Jitsu Federation, will debut the Jiu-Jitsu Asian Youth Championship. This special contest is tailored for athletes under 21, 18, and 16 years of age.

As the flagship event for the UAE National Team, the Jiu-Jitsu Asian Championship holds special significance, with Hamda and her teammates striving for a fourth consecutive victory. Her stellar performance previously earned her 800 points in the Women's Professional Purple 23-24 AJP Tour 2023-2024 ranking, securing her position as #59 globally, #19 in Asia, and #6 in the UAE.

“No matter which championship it is, it's always exciting to compete, regardless of its size,” says the young martial artist. “However, being the defending champion definitely adds to the excitement, and there's an urge to win, defend the title, and give your best.”

Anticipated to draw over 1,500 competitors hailing from various corners of Asia, encompassing both male and female athletes, the week-long extravaganza of the Jiu-Jitsu Asian Championship will also spotlight approximately 700 contenders vying in the youth categories, representing a diverse array of 25 nations.

“Of course, I am feeling some pressure, but that's what sports is all about. I am giving my 100 per cent. We've had some great training sessions, and we have the full backing of the federation and the technical team, so I'm ready,” says Hamda, who’s currently a first-year student of Special Education at Al Ain University.

The young athlete’s track record itself speaks volumes about her skill and dedication. Last season, she stood out with a remarkable victory at the Thailand Open Grand Prix 2023. Furthermore, she boasts an impressive collection of achievements, including three gold medals at both the Abu Dhabi World Professional Jiu-Jitsu Championship and the Jiu-Jitsu World Championship.

Hailing from the UAE, her journey as an emerging athlete in the world of martial arts is far from conventional. Born with hearing difficulties, Hamda has had to navigate the world of Jiu-Jitsu with an added layer of complexity. But when the mind emerges victorious, physical limitations hold no power. “My hearing difficulties do not affect my love for sports. I’ve always had a passion for sports in general and specifically for Jiu-Jitsu,” says Hamda.

“I started playing the sport in 2016 in school,” she shares, reflecting on her beginnings. “The school, coaches, and my family were very supportive and after a lot of practice, I realised that I wanted to continue in this field. Once you find your calling in martial arts, it’s very difficult to take any other route."

Despite the challenges she faced, her passion for the sport only grew stronger. “Jiu-Jitsu is a fantastic sport; it has its own positive aspects, such as developing both physical and mental toughness. Additionally, when you consider the support you receive from the leadership, federation, fans, and families, you feel even more motivated,” says Hamda.

Her dedication paid off when she clinched the gold medal at the Jiu-Jitsu Asian Championship held in Bangkok, Thailand, a remarkable achievement that set the stage for her illustrious career. “Bangkok was a memorable experience. It had an impact on me on many levels. It's encouraged me to do more, to train harder, and to make my country proud,” Hamda recalls her victorious feat. “Every win serves as a motivating factor to achieve more, and every loss serves as a lesson, helping us identify our weaknesses and strive to fix them.”

Training journey with hearing difficulties

Though the young athlete has never let hearing difficulties come in the way of her goals and aspirations, there are certain challenges that are unique to her training journey as a person of determination in the world of competitive sports.

When she first joined the Jiu-Jitsu team, Hamda admits she found it challenging to express herself to her teammates. “This led to some minor misunderstandings between me and the team members,” she recalls. “Sometimes, my hearing device falls out during my training, making it difficult for me to keep it stable. I also have to ensure that I have enough batteries for them because it's important and mandatory for me to be able to hear properly during my training and competitions."

"My coach and teammates have been very supportive with me, showing a lot of attention and care," says Hamda.

During competitions, the athlete also faces the additional challenge of communicating effectively amidst the fast-paced action. “I usually struggle to hear properly due to the loud noises,” Hamda explains. “To ensure clearer communication, I tend to look more often at my coach during the competition to see if someone is saying something to me.”

When it comes to her opponents, Hamda mentions that physical communication is more important. “It’s easier because I’m unlikely to talk to them during the competition. So, I simply make sure to show respect,” she adds.

Despite these challenges, Hamda remains undeterred, drawing strength from her teammates and coaches. “Being part of the national team entails significant responsibility. The team boasts a strong history of achievements, and we feel the duty to uphold those accomplishments.”

"However, with a federation willing to support us, the right coaches and technical team backing us, and teammates who support each other, the weight of that responsibility doesn't feel as heavy," she adds.

Hamda's resilience and determination have propelled her to international recognition. Yet, for her, success is not just about personal achievement but also about inspiring others and contributing to the growth of the sport. “The growth of Jiu-Jitsu in the UAE and the wider Gulf region is incredible. After each event, we see more and more kids becoming attracted to the sport,” says Hamda.

“There are a lot of academies and schools that teach Jiu-Jitsu in the UAE. I am glad to see this happening and proud of whatever little I have done to contribute to the advancement of the sport and inspire others,” she adds.

As she looks towards the future, the young athlete remains focused on her goals, both on and off the mat. “My goal is to achieve a black belt in Jiu-Jitsu," she shares. “In the future, I aspire to become a Jiu-Jitsu coach for individuals with similar disabilities. While I acknowledge that I may encounter communication difficulties, I’m committed to self-improvement to assist others and make it a more inclusive space.”

For Hamda, Jiu-Jitsu is more than just a sport—it's a platform to break barriers, defy expectations, and inspire others to reach for their dreams. And with each triumph, she continues to prove that anything is possible with passion, perseverance, and a fighting spirit.


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