Lifting a Heaven Burden
The inspiring story of a Muslim weightlifter who never gave up on her dream
BY: Stephen Russ
Despite her resistance to being in the public eye, Kulsoom agreed to have a press release issued in expectation of the International Weightlifting Federation meeting that took place in June. The IWF is the body that determines the rules that the national competitions follow, and Kulsoom hoped they would hear her request. The press release was intended to bring awareness, and it did. There was a huge influx of support and media interested in her story. She even got coverage in her families’ native country of Pakistan.
Of course, detractors were fervent as well. The media articles published after the press release were often followed by disdainful comments. Many claimed that if she wanted to be in the sport then she should play by the same rules. Her response to that claim represents her overall attitude – “If you can include more people, isn’t that the whole attitude of the sport?”
Another, more alarming response, has been an expressed fear that she and other Muslims are trying to take over the sport and change it. This was particularly difficult to see for someone who didn’t desire the public eye: “if people look at my story they don’t even know me or who I am,” says Kulsoom, “I’m just asking to participate, I’m not telling people they have to do this.”
Support was also not consistent within her religion. While many Muslims have supported her, some even asking her to come speak to their youth, more conservative Muslims expressed concerns over weightlifting also being a male sport or over a woman being out in such a public position. Even with those discouragements, Kulsoom was positive: “I can understand that perspective and the context that it would exist in. If you’re in a different country and the situation is different.”
This heated, yet supportive, media blitz led up to the IWF meeting where a decision would be made. Kulsoom developed a presentation and planned to attend, but she was not allowed to. The outlook was initially bleak, and all she could do was get the presentation out on her own and wait. She recalls praying “that whatever is going to be the best situation would happen.” Then, just a few days after the meeting, she received their response.