Having grown up practicing gymnastics, Amal Baatia always had a penchant for sports, but it wasn’t until she attended a CrossFit class in Dubai in 2014 that she realised how exercise could drastically improve her life.
Three years later, and the 40-year-old mother of two has turned her passion into a career and dedicates her work as a coach to the health and wellbeing of Saudi women.
But her journey was far from simple and she had to work hard for the role-model status she holds today.
From CrossFit enthusiast to fully-fledged trainer
Although Baatia was ready to start CrossFit classes as soon as she left Dubai, there was one major problem - Saudi Arabia didn’t support women’s sports, so facilities and trainers were severely lacking.
“I came back to Saudi with a lot of determination to start training and work hard, but unfortunately with the lack of gyms… in my country I decided to depend on online training to master the moves,” she told Emirates Woman. “I was always grabbing any opportunity to pack my bags and travel just to train and learn the right techniques.”
Baati quickly began improving her CrossFit skills, but the more time she dedicated to her passion, the harder it was for her to juggle her other responsibilities.
“I was an investment manager, and I had to attend my full-time job every morning. Moreover, I am a mother of two children,” she told Arab News. “However, with God’s will, I somehow was able to cope with my new lifestyle.”
After certifying as a CrossFit and calisthenics coach, Baati quit her job to fulfill her dream of opening her own fitness studio - Amal B Fitness, based in Jeddah.
CrossFit is a high intensity sport that incorporates exercises from gymnastics, weightlifting, running and other major sports into a powerful workout.
Group gyms are key to its success and it has become one of the major fitness regimens in the world.
Although being a sportswoman in Saudi Arabia is difficult for a variety of reasons, Baati does not view her achievements as exceptional.
“It is simply a story of courage and readiness to take on challenges,” she told Gulf News. “As I was making progress and achieving feats in various competitions, I became more ardent about the sport and keener on my grand dream of promoting it in Saudi Arabia.”
Prioritising women’s health and wellbeing
Although Baatia wasn’t sure whether a sport as intense as CrossFit would catch on in a country where most women aren’t physically active, she was pleased to see that other women became just as passionate about the sport as she was.
“[At first] I wasn’t sure if girls would enjoy it,” she said. “It was new, unknown, tough and needs a lot of strength. I started with them gradually, focusing on functional movements and technique. Now I have clients who have been coming every day for over two years.”
Thanks to Vision 2030 and the changing attitudes towards women’s sports, Baati believes that there is no better time for Saudi women to take up physical activities and improve both their physical and mental health.
“We were elated when we heard about the recent decisions to open sports clubs for women and physical education colleges in universities,” she said. “The practice of sports should become a way of life for all Saudis. It is an amazing and free way to improve one’s feelings and self-esteem.”
Finding recognition outside the Kingdom
Baatia’s success has not only caught the attention of people in Saudi Arabia, she recently became an Ambassador for Under Armour, one of the biggest sports brands in the United States.
#tomorrow , a mystical land where 99% of all human productivity , motivation and achievement is stored Well, tomorrow will never come , there is only ever today.... #crossfit #olympiclifting #barbell #strenghttraining #fitmom #fitnessmotivation #IWILL #underarmourme #jeddahfitness #dubaifitness #saudiwomen #amalbfitnes
Earlier this month she joined Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps at an Under Armour store opening in Dubai. Baatia hopes that her story will continue to inspire women to realise their strength and take their health into their own hands.
It was such a pleasure meeting the legendary Olympic gold medalist @m_phelps00 at the @UnderArmourme new Store opening in dubai mall !!Thank u @underarmourme for the great event and for the invitation #underarmourme #IWILL #underarmourwomen #fitnessmotovation #swimmer #olympians #michaelphelps #champ #amalbfitness #strongsaudiwomen #crossfit #calisthenics #dubaifitness #mydubai #underarmour #jeddah #dubai #saudiarabia
“Leading a healthy life style and changing people to be better is truly an amazing achievement in life,” she wrote on Instagram. “I want Saudi women to know that there is nothing to strike fear into their hearts,and my target is to allay this fear. I believe we can do whatever we long to. We can go to work, take care of our children and live our life normally.”