The Big Interview | 30/11/2020

Breaking Barriers: Zainab Al-Eqabi

By Alba D'souza
Copywriter, SSSPORTS.COM

The recently concluded Dubai Fitness challenge saw participants from all walks of life at the start line. From newbies to athletes trying to break their PBs, Dubai proved no matter what the circumstance, nothing could break our sportsman spirit.

But one young para-athlete stood out – Zainab Al-Eqabi. A pharmacist turned TV presenter and Social Media influencer went the extra mile hauling a 2,000 kg Jeep as part of the Dubai Fitness Challenge event hosted in Sustainable City.

‘You must expect great things of yourself before you can do them.’ – Michael Jordan

Zainab graduated as a pharmacist in 2013 and worked in the field for 3 years before pursuing a Master’s degree in International Social Work and Community Development in the United Kingdom. Her goal – to share information about her disability and motivate individuals like herself, to pursue a life worth living. She was 7 when she lost her leg in a landmine explosion in Baghdad, Iraq. A medical mishap further aggravated her condition but didn’t stop her from wanting to make a difference.

“While working with a pharmaceutical company, I began creating content on social media. The drive to create awareness around being differently-able and the possibility to continue living a successful life, was so strong, that I began sharing details of my life on social media. I wanted to motivate communities, especially among those like me, and show them that life is to be lived and experienced to its fullest.”

It was her work on social media that caught the attention of MBC, who offered her Yalla Banat – a show that offers youth in the Arab world, modern-day solutions to everyday problems.

 “Life has since changed post the TV show, but my intention remains the same, fame is simply a by-product. In fact ever since I’ve been offered this platform, I hope to connect and speak to more people, and answer more questions while continuing to positively motivate those around me.”

‘If something stands between you and your success, move it.’ – Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson

Zainab has called the UAE home for the last 20 years. This home-grown talent is in awe of the country’s diversity and the opportunities to learn from other cultures. Having witnessed Dubai’s change and progress during her time here, she salutes the leadership for their vision and growth. As a para-athlete, she’s seen a shift and growth among Emirati athletes too, especially female athletes. Given the increase in sporting initiatives, she believes the UAE is headed to the top, in both, hosting and participating in global sporting events.

“I believe where there were once barriers in the field of sports, especially for women, with the growth of social media, everyone is now encouraged to break these limitations. That being said, I think breaking and overcoming barriers is an individual choice and their own journey to take. Even if you are unable to step outside and challenge these barriers, your phone is all you need to begin training in your room. The internet is a blessing in disguise; It allows you to train online and connect with so many sporting groups. There are women-only groups hosting sporting activities to encourage women to take up a sport. Whether in the U.A.E., KSA or across the GCC, these groups are easy to contact and always open to new comers.”

Zainab began training in 2011 after experiencing severe back pain from her prosthetic gait. Her doctor pushed her to begin working out and encouraged her to take up swimming. “I always loved sports but had no idea about exercising, let alone swimming! It changed my life and marked my official entry into the world of sport. On a daily basis, I swim or weight train at home, and am hoping to return to cycling. To me, ‘sport’ is a mindset, it makes you stronger both physically and mentally. I monitor my workouts on my favourite accessory, my sports watch! Burning calories or hitting a PB goal is exciting, it gives me a sense of achievement.”

Zainab Al-Eqabi, Social Media Influencer
Zainab Al-Eqabi, Social Media Influencer
“Run when you can, walk if you have to, crawl if you must; just never give up.” – Dean Karnazes

“But not all days are great. On days I feel I can’t function, I give myself space. When issues are beyond my control, I give myself a break, for a limited time. I choose to either rest or show up at the gym for a mini-workout. Honestly, working out a little is better than not working out at all.”

For workout inspiration, Zainab enjoys watching or attending races or sporting events. Whether it’s athletes at the Olympics, triathletes or a community event, people committed to training or participating in sport, brings her joy. It pushes her to do more and to keep her training varied. Her love for diving takes her to the open waters of Fujairah, and other days you’ll find her at Kite Beach or the Meydan cycling track in Dubai.

Given the constant demand on her time, prioritizing tasks and time management is key to Zainab. “If you plan your day well, you can achieve 70% – 80% of your to-do list. You may be unsuccessful at the start but with practice, you do get better. It makes life so much easier!”

With her schedules in place, does Zainab have anything she’s been itching to try? “Life is full of surprises, things just show up and become part of your journey. I’m a very curious person and open to new experiences. I do want to learn to skydive solo; it’s scary when I think about it. I’m not too sure if I’ll ever do it, but you never know!”

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