Sahar ElRefai, a QF alumna, petroleum engineer and a certified personal trainer, narrates her story on how sports helped her overcome trauma
There is a saying that “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade”, and I’d say I’m a person who lives by this motto every day of my life.
I was fortunate enough to find a way to cope with stress and turn all the negative feelings I had into constructive, positive energy
As a girl who was brought up in a well-off family, attended some of the best schools in town, brought home her BSc degree in petroleum engineering from Texas A&M university at Qatar, and then went on to pursue her passions in sports and career, making her parents proud and being the perfect daughter, life should’ve seemed great. Only, that it wasn’t.
It wasn’t as impeccable as it may have seemed to the outside world.
I have worked hard throughout my life to ensure I fulfill people’s high expectations of me; my family always sought for perfection and didn’t accept any less from me. Making them proud and being up to the standards set for me has been like a never-ending race. I would chase the dreams that weren’t necessarily mine. And even through the toughest of times I have been the girl who would put on a great jolly face.
But I was fortunate enough to find a way to cope with stress and turn all the negative feelings I had into constructive, positive energy.
Sports and physical activity were indeed my savior.
I started spending more time exercising – and that was the beginning of a new chapter of my life
Since a very young age, sport has been part of my daily life. I was a quiet child but loved to play and move around constantly. Physical movement was so vital for me growing up – I played different sports, from karate to squash, the list goes on. I can’t imagine my childhood without it, as it helped me grow into a stronger person, taught me a lot about things like acceptance, challenges, winning and losing from such a young age. I didn’t realize the impact it had and the way it molded me until I grew older.
My teenage years weren’t exactly a walk in the park. I was in a phase where I was trying to figure out many things about life, and about myself and what I wanted to be, while also struggling to keep up with my family’s expectations without compromise. I suffered from constant stress as a teenager due to traumatic experiences and with no professional help to guide me into dealing with all these emotions. I started seeking for something that could instantly make me happy, and so I began to snack heavily on sugar, keeping that façade and tricking everyone into believing that I was ecstatic and happy for the most part, but little did they know.
As I grew older, I realized I need to make better choices. I started spending more time exercising – and that was the beginning of a new chapter of my life.
I began to find happiness and gratification in moments where I had a major adrenaline rush, which soon replaced my unhealthy snacking habits, and helped me retrieve my physical and mental balance. With time, sports and exercise became a lifestyle. It inspired me to pursue it professionally as a licensed personal trainer through which I could help others, both mentally and physically, by creating customized programs catered to their goals.
Training kids and adults throughout the years has helped me instill the idea of exercise and living healthy as a lifestyle rather than a temporary fix. I have witnessed first-hand how much of an impact it has on all age groups, releasing dopamine resulting in them becoming happy, and helping them have a clearer and quieter mind.
My strong belief in the power of exercise has inspired me to help transform people’s lives for the better
In addition, besides achieving their exercise goals, people also have the added benefit of tapping into their own potential and understanding their bodies inside out. Once people get on this bandwagon and commit to investing in their physical and mental health for life, their lives always change for the better – they make better decisions, become more patient, exude confidence, and are at ease. The return on investment is endless, and priceless.
Now as a 30-year old, many people wonder as to how and why I choose to juggle being an engineer and a personal trainer. It is my passion. And my strong belief in the power of exercise has inspired me to help transform people’s lives for the better. And seeing how happy, at peace and more confident they become, it empowers me to be that helping hand to others in need.
Throughout my journey, I learned that once a person unleashes their potential, both physically and mentally, through exercise and meditation, they become stronger and learn how to live and adapt with pressure – whether of their past, current or future. And no matter how hard the tests life puts us through, the power of the mind, body and soul is inexplicably incredible.
Sports teaches us to appreciate through movement what our minds and bodies can endure, which leads to a whole new level of self-appreciation and acknowledgement to the magic that lies beneath all the jargon that life has blinded us with from unrealistic body goals and shapes, to seeing only the happy times of someone’s life.
Sahar ElRefai is an alumna of Texas A&M University at Qatar. A petroleum engineer by day, Sahar is also a personal trainer by night. Sahar received a level 3 certification in personal training, in 2016. She is also a licensed “Total Barre” – a high-energy program that focuses on strength, flexibility, stamina and dynamic stability, and is also a group class instructor in this. She works on a freelance basis and provides customized programs that includes exercise routines and nutrition for her clients.