Ibtihaj Muhammad: Olympian Fencer Visits SLU

On March 28, Olympic bronze medalist Ibtihaj Muhammad came to SLU per the Great Issues Committee.

Muhammad started fencing in New Jersey at age 14. She never aspired to make it to the Olympics, but yet, at age 30, she was a member of the USA fencing team in Rio.

“For me, I think that I have always been a person who sets small goals for myself, and I’ve never thought about the Olympics or competing in the games or anything like that,” Muhammad said. “I’ve always said, ‘oh I want to go to a really good university, or I want to qualify for the national team. I want to win a medal at World Championships.’ So, I set these benchmarks for myself, and I kept going until I won an Olympic medal.”

Growing up, Muhammad had always participated in sports but found that fencing was a great fit for her due to her religious practice of wearing a hijab.

“I think from an early age I realized that my hijab or even being African American had the power to change how people treated me, and I’ve never really allowed that to dictate how I felt about myself,” Muhammad said. “I’ve never said there are limitations on the things I can do or who I can be because I’m a woman or because I’m black or because I’m Muslim.”

When Muhammad realized in the 2016 Rio Olympic Games that her team was in the bronze medal match, she couldn’t believe it. The team of four beat Italy 45-30.

“I was in complete shock and kind of disbelief the entire time, and I just kept saying I can’t believe it because you work so hard, and that’s a moment in your life that you can only dream about,” Muhammad said.

The road hasn’t always been easy, but through Muhammad’s resilience, she was able to turn any negativity into motivation.

“I’ve always felt motivated by the naysayers in my life,” Muhammad said.

Since the Olympics, she has been speaking to different groups, writing memoirs and a children’s book; additionally, she has a Barbie doll inspired by her. All of these opportunities are a testament to her resilience. Muhammad believes that anything that is meant to be will never miss her.

“I’m just excited for every step of the way,” Muhammad said.