She made Egyptians all over the world proud when she became one of the faces behind the New Nike Hijab Line that will be launched in 2018. With many firsts under her belt, Rostom was the first Egyptian woman to run China’s Great Wall Marathon in 2016, as well as climbing Mount Kilimanjaro (Africa’s highest point) and Mount Elbrus (Europe’s tallest mountain).
Manal Rostom, The first Hijab Nike trainer in the world, is an inspiration to Egyptian and Muslim women all around the globe. Her story began back in 2014 and each step she has taken ever since has lead her to become the inspiration she is today. Like so many women who wear the hijab, Rostom has days where she questions keeping her hijab on. From being banned from entering certain places because she has a piece of cloth on her head to struggling to find the right hijab material to workout it in, Rostom has had her fair share of struggles that make living with the hijab a struggle every day.
During Mashable’s Social Media Day event, Rostom recalled the series of events that have led her to where she is today.
It all began after she was having a conversation with one of her friends about the gap in representation from international sportswear brands for women who cover. Rostom had done many hikes in a cotton hijab, something that was definitely not protective enough for the cold weather she endured. Instead of just complaining about her troubles, Rostom decided to do something about it.
“If you cannot find it, or you cannot see it, you must be the change you want.”
Her strong belief in the ‘six degrees of separation’ (a belief that you can connect any two people in the world, through a chain of “a friend of a friend”, with six or fewer steps) helped her find the email of Coach Thomas Woolf, the Head Coach of Nike Middle East and this is where the story began.
After reaching out to someone who knows someone, Rostom got a hold of Coach Thomas Woolf’s email and sent him an email talking about her experience as a runner who wears the hijab and how she wants to see change and couldn’t think of a better brand to reach out to other than her favorite, Nike. With no expectation of a response, Rostom was quite shocked when soon after she got a positive response back from Coach Thomas, commenting that Nike had actually been discussing the topic and that he’d be very interested to meet her.
This above is a picture of Coach Tom’s response to Rostom’s email :
Thank you for your email.
It’s timing is perfect and i have been having similar conversations with the Nike team here.
How are you set to meet at —- at 3pm tomorrow?
“As someone who was still struggling with hijab, struggling with being a veiled athlete, this was a life-changing day,” says Rostom. Back in 2014, Rostom began a Facebook Group called ‘Surviving Hijab’ for her and her friends to support each other. Today this group has a total of 500,000 women who support each other to survive the everyday struggle of living in a non-hijab-friendly world. After her meeting with Coach Thomas, Rostom was asked to be a part of the Nike Middle East campaign in 2014, and later on she became the first Arab woman to be invited to the Nike HQ in Oregon USA for the Nike+ Training Club Summit and becoming a Nike+ Run club coach.
Flash-forward a couple of years, Rostoms’ persistence, belief and effort paid off when she got a phone call from Nike asking her to become one of the faces of the Nike Pro Hijab Line. A simple idea that made her email Nike and ask them to represent girls who covered, ended with her being the face of such representation. A real-life story of how strong belief coupled with strong actions can really make a huge difference in the world. Today, Rostom still struggles with the hijab, but she admits that it’s a lot more easier as a veiled athlete when big brands, like Nike International, recognize you and the need to represent others like you.
“The hijab doesn’t stop anyone from doing anything. It is society that sets up unnecessary boundaries and stereotypes.
If a hijab girl or woman wants to start diving, people automatically question “can a veiled woman dive? Yes! The diving suit is actually perfectly tailored for veiled girls. I, myself, am actually an advanced diver.
Society also questions when a girl wants to run in the streets. Another unnecessary boundary imposed on women by society. Women grow up listening to these restrictions and end up believing in them just because “my uncle or dad told me so…”
But the fact of the matter is that the only real struggle that girls who wear the hijab have when playing a sport is that they have a difficult time assembling proper workout outfits. My advice to those girls is, take the time to assemble your workout outfit just like you would if you were putting together an outfit for a wedding. Just like you have bad hair days, you have bad hijab days. Put in the effort and look good when you workout, that’s the only real struggle.”