Mountaineer and Marathoner Manal Rostom is the first-ever veiled woman to be a Nike model.
In 2014 Manal Rostom wrote to Nike to ask why none of their ads featured women who looked or dressed like her: Arab women who wear the hijab. Nike got in touch and Manal not only ended up featuring in their international advertising campaign, but also became involved in developing Nike’s Pro Hijab, a head scarf designed for veiled women who participate in sports.
But growing up Manal didn’t plan on wearing the hijab: her attitude towards covering was negative due to the stereotypes of veiled women being timid or uneducated. Manal talked about these perceptions she once held and how determined she is to change the stereotype: enter our power-house runner, mountaineer and fitness coach!
While Manal Rostom originally trained as a pharmacist and spent 14 years in the corporate world, she is now a full-time fitness coach who has summitted 7 mountains and run 11 marathons! She is the first Egyptian woman to summit Mont Blanc. There is even an Apple playlist called “Run with Manal” and she is the first Arab to be featured on the Global Nike+ Run Club App. Manal started wearing the hijab aged 21 but almost gave it up in 2014 – that is when she created the Surviving Hijab Facebook Community Group for which she recently won an award – it has grown to over 600,000 members.
During our chat Manal opened up for the first time about her experience dealing with horrific cyber-bullies, blow-back from a tolerance message she posted on her facebook group. We discussed how society can place a heavy burden on women, judging them on things that lay outside their control. Finally, we talked about motivation and what drives her up the mountain when she is physically drained.
My favourite quote from the episode: “I love it when little boys look at me and I’m their role model.”