Fresh from representing Qatar in the World Athletics Championships in Doha, the QF student and international athlete talks performance, persistence, and pride
Being a student athlete presents a challenge that stretches across two worlds, requiring the ability to balance the amount of time that needs to be devoted to both studying and training, in order to be the best you can be in both.
It means arranging different types of tasks, setting priorities, and having the ability, energy, and commitment to be alert in the morning for university lectures and raring to go at a night-time training session. And, when you’re representing your country, the dates of championships and the need to prepare for them create an extra test for a student in making sure nothing slips.
Mariam Farid, a communications student at Northwestern University in Qatar - a partner university of Qatar Foundation - and a member of the Qatar Athletics Federation team who participated in the 400m hurdles at the recent IAAF World Athletics Championships in Doha, is one such athlete. But, despite her busy daily schedule of both studying and training, she insists there is no need for a break. “I have no difficulty arranging my daily tasks, and I still have enough time to balance my studies with my sport career” she says.
“Whenever I commit to participate in a sports championship, I make my professors aware of it, and they understand my circumstances. They also encourage me because they appreciate student athletes and are proud of me being an athlete and a member of the Qatar national team."
Mariam’s passion for sports led her to try running, volleyball, badminton, and other fields until she started taking part in activities organized by Aspire Academy. One of Qatar's athletics coaches discovered her talent and asked her to undergo an assessment of her athletic abilities.
“I was chosen to join the team after my test and, since then, I have started my career with the Qatar Athletics Federation,” she says. “I have been looking forward to being a professional sportsperson since I was 16 years old.”
She points to many factors that contributed to her success today, the most important being growing up in a sports-loving family. From a young age, she had encouragement and support from her parents, who were always keen to see sports become a big part of their children’s lives, recognizing its role in maintaining physical and social health.
“My father was one of the most supportive people of me playing sport,” says Mariam. “He was with me in most of the tournaments that I participated in, and I never forget the first time I participated in the West Asian Athletics Championship in Jordan, where I represented Qatar. My father was there to encourage me, and his presence had a big impact on my performance.
“Training, getting the support you need from others, and having a strong will and the determination to pursue your goals are all factors that pave the way for achieving the greatest successes.
Milestones and achievements
Mariam was an ambassador for the IAAF World Athletics Championships Doha 2019, a role which saw her travel to Monaco with representatives from Qatar’s government and other institutions. And she was among the group of athletes who also took on ambassadorial roles for the nation by represented Qatar in the sporting showpiece.
“Qatar is the first country in the Middle East to host the IAAF World Athletics Championships,” she says. “This is an achievement and a source of pride for the Arab world, and it gave the Qatari community an opportunity to see their national team compete locally with some of the best athletics teams in the world, developing their passion for sport.
The hijab has never been a hindrance to my success. It just makes me different from the other competitors.
“I was proud to have been chosen to participate in the championships, which I consider to be one of the most important highlights of my sporting career. It was truly like a dream coming true for me. Many athletes do not have the chance to compete with their family members and friends being there."
After Qatar was announced as the host of the Championship, the responsibility on its athletes became bigger. This was especially true for Mariam, the first female Qatari athlete to wear the hijab during competition.
“I’ve received many questions from the Western media about my participation while wearing the hijab, through which I was able to change the stereotypical view of Arab women who wear the hijab,” she says. “This was to inspire more girls and change the stereotype that girls in the Arab world are not able to play sports.
"The hijab has never been a hindrance to my success. It just makes me different from the other competitors."
As for some of the media criticism the championships received. Mariam says: “Hosting the IAAF World Athletics Championship made every Qatari and Arab proud, as it is considered one of the best championships in the world. The support and facilities that were available to competitors, both inside and outside the stadium, were the best.”
“Although it is not unheard of to host international championships during the hot summer weather, as professional athletes we must be ready for changing weather conditions. However, the stadium temperature was only between 23-25 degrees Celsius.
“Qatar has had many accomplishments in the sports field, and the upcoming events will be even bigger, such as hosting the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Qatar has now become a center of excellence in sports, as shown by the sports training camps it hosts. It provides high-quality infrastructure and facilities that serve and motivate Qatar’s society, as well as our guests from all over the world."
An athlete’s biggest competitor is themselves. My passion to succeed leads me to do my best every time.
Setting new marks
During her career, Mariam has participated in many local and international championships, setting records and winning medals in Gulf, Asian, and international tournaments. In the 400m hurdles at the IAAF World Athletics Championships 2019, she set a new personal best.
“An athlete’s biggest competitor is themselves,” she says. “My passion to succeed leads me to do my best every time. This time, though, I outperformed myself, registering a new personal record -one minute and nine seconds.”
The championships are the largest sporting event ever hosted in the region, with more than 2,000 athletes from 213 countries taking part, and 10,000 international media representatives from all over the world attending, making it a whole new stage for Mariam.
“Taking part in this championship meant a lot to me,” she says. “It is watched by millions of people around the world. I also had the opportunity to compete with the most prominent runners around the world. And that motivates me to keep going and to succeed.”
Reaching the top
No athlete can reach the top alone. They realize the importance of opinions provided by their mentors and they take every opportunity to learn from them. As Mariam says: “For me, every experience is different, and an opportunity to develop my skills.
“I always receive constructive criticism from everyone around me, especially my coach. People, always help me see both my weaknesses and my strengths, and what distinguishes me from others. Knowing my weak points helps me overcome them to achieve my personal goals. And by identifying my strengths, I can take advantage of them as I move forward."
As a student at Northwestern University in Qatar, Mariam uses many sports facilities available in Education City. "I often use, for example, the racetrack in Oxygen Park, the gym in the Education City Student Center, and the various restaurants that offer healthy eating options,“ she says.
"Athletics is considered an individual sport. And as an athlete, I am supposed to be confident in myself, my skills, and my ability to achieve the best. Sport has made me stronger and more open to the world and has made me more persistent and ambitious.”