In our weekly feature looking at how the UAE’s most interesting people spend their Fridays – the best day of the week, let’s face it – we speak to UAE athlete Amna Al Merri. You probably remember her from that ground-breaking Nike ad with top local stars in it.
Here’s she opens up about how she co-founded a women’s running club, loving poetry and trying out the brand-new Nike hijab.
*The Nike hijab is available in stores this week.
WORKOUT AND ABOUT
I always try to catch up on sleep during the weekend but sometimes I find myself up by 7am when everyone else is asleep, in which case I go for a jog. Fridays are usually family days when we gather with my husband’s family for lunch and mine for dinner. Recently, my husband and I went to watch the Battle of the Bars at La Mer – it’s an outdoors calisthenics competition conducted by Gravity Gym, a place I used to visit to learn some parkour.
I grew up in Dubai and my city is amazing – there are still so many places I haven’t been to. On weekends, I like going out and exploring new restaurants and cafes, and in the winter it gets 10 times better – you can go to mountains, deserts, and there are so many festivals! I love outdoor activities such as hiking or kayaking on my days off and enjoy stand-up paddling in the summer.
My interest in fitness began when I graduated high school because the only sport we had in school was basketball and I wanted more, so I started weight lifting and boxing. My parents have always been into fitness and they have always been very supportive of my fitness goals, which is why I succeed in everything I do. My mum was into gymnastics when she was younger and my dad is into running, weight training and football.
WHO RUN THE WORLD
I realised I need to run [at least] once a week and luckily found a group of girls – Abeer Al Khaja, Salha Al Basti and Mariam Al Mazroui – who felt the same. We wanted a place outdoors where we could run with privacy but we were told that no one will close off an area just for girls to run. So we took that as a challenge and started the Ana Gow Running Club; the Dubai Ladies Club provided us the space. More than 50 girls have joined our running club and we’ve been running outdoors every Tuesday for three years now.
GIRLS WHO LIFT
As a certified weight lifting instructor, the common misconception I’ve had to clear for women about weight lifting is that a woman won’t necessarily get bulky if she trains with weights. You just have to do it according to your body [type], your food and your [fitness] goals.
BRAINS AND BRAWN
I’m a biomedical engineer and work for the Dubai Health Authority. It’s not that hard to balance work, training and my personal life because I ensure I train after work hours between 5 and 6pm. Plus, I love working out because it gives my body the structure I want and secondly, I really enjoy doing these exercises, they’re fun. I enjoy turning the pain of a sweaty workout into power and strength; Ana Gow, the name of our running club, is Arabic for ‘I am strong’.
After a busy and active week I unwind watching TV shows at home or I go to a cosy coffee shop and read a book or I write poetry – it’s not a fact many people know about me but I love poetry. I like poetry that is simple yet contains a lot of meaning. My favourite poets currently are Robert M. Drake, R.H.Sin, Pierre Jeanty and Zachry Douglas.
My super power is…
I can always make it quiet when it storms.
YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT
I’m always hungry for pizza. Who isn’t? But I prefer eating at home because that way I know exactly what I’m putting in my body. For example, I substitute [traditional Emirati dish] machboos’ white rice with brown rice or quinoa and use organic coconut oil for cooking. Another one of my healthy recipes that’s a hit is PB banana – you need just frozen banana and peanut butter, beat them up and you have a PB banana ice cream in the simplest and healthiest way. It’s why I started The Healthy Blog – to share healthier variants of desserts and traditional dishes.
I got to be a part of the iconic Nike advertisement that shows Arab women playing sports and exercising by chance. They were looking for an [Emirati] lady to represent running and I happened to be the co-founder of a running club [so they contacted me]. When I asked my Ana Gow running mates, no one was up for it, so I went. It was an exciting experience because that was my first big [public] advertisement and by participating I broke a big barrier – some of my family members were upset, but my parents, my husband and my friends were so supportive. I’m happy I did it.
I’ve tried out the new Nike Pro Hijab and I really like how light and breathable it is. It is very useful for [women] like us who are trying to participate in sporting events that involve being out in public and being photographed in front of men. I’d like to be remembered as a health and fitness role model. I have always wanted to help the community and helping them stay fit is how I do it.
If Shaikh Zayed was alive, I would love to spend a Friday talking to him and learning more about his mind-set, about how he made our country the way it is – great. As an Emirati woman, my favourite thing about National Day is how we can celebrate it in so many different ways, in different parts of the country – from hyped parades on the road to eventually chilling out and camping in the mountains. I’m so grateful National Day comes in the winter.
BACK TO JAPAN
If time and money weren’t an issue and I could travel to any destination, I’d take off to Japan. I love Japanese culture. I’ve been there once before but only for a week, so I’d like to explore more places, and discover more about the nature, food and technology.
I like all types of music depending on my mood – reggae, metal or just love songs. Adam Levine is the one singer I’d love to see live in concert.