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Ibtihaj Muhammad, a 30-year-old American Olympic fencer, will make history at this year's Rio Olympics when she becomes the first American ever to compete in the Olympics wearing a traditional headscarf known as a hijab. Muhammad is among the best fencers in the world, but is getting extreme media attention because of her special story and how she became the athlete she is today.

Born and raised in New Jersey, Muhammad's Muslim faith became a very important part of her life from a very young age. Her competitive nature drove her to sports, but she felt uncomfortable being covered in sports like volleyball or track and field when others were not.

"I would get stares," Muhammad told the Los Angeles Times. "My skin color, my religion made other people uncomfortable."

One day, she and her mother were driving down the street, and while stopped at a red light, they looked into a window and saw an unfamiliar sport where the players played with jackets, pants and masks.

"Fencing found me," Muhammad said. "I wanted a sport where I could be fully covered, and I didn't have to look different."

She tried fencing, and although she initially did not like it, it grew on her rapidly, and she became very good at it. Her determination allowed her to climb up the ranks. She became the captain of her high school's fencing team and led them to two state championships. She then continued to Duke University where she was a three time All-American.

After college, she continued to the national fencing program where she fought for a spot on the Olympic team. After the attacks in San Bernardino and Paris and Donald Trump's proposed "total and complete shutdown" of all Muslims entering the country, her struggles became more than simply training for the Olympic trials.

"That was always one of my concerns," said Muhammad. "Am I going to be allowed to board my flight to make it to my Olympic qualifier?"

Muhammad's concerns were very real ones, which most athletes don't have to think about. Her fear is unfortunately one she had to think about more than most others. Her religion has always been very important to her, and questions like this one have arose because of it. Fencing has always been her release from all the stress.

Muhammad is very open about  her opinions and experiences, especially on social media. In April, she tweeted about a man who stopped her on the street to ask if she was going to blow anything up.

As I'm walking down the street, this guy asks if I'm going to blow something up, follows me & says I look suspicious

— Ibtihaj Muhammad (@IbtihajMuhammad) April 16, 2016

"I'm hoping to change the image that people may have of Muslim women," Muhammad said. "We come in all different shapes, colors and sizes, and we come from different backgrounds and we’re productive members of society. I want people to see we can even be Olympic athletes.”

Muhammad has already inspired so many with her story, and will continue to do so as she competes in August for the gold in the 2016 Rio Olympics.


Published by Lia Assimakopoulos