Two-time Olympic swimmer Nada Arakji has spent little time resting since returning to Doha from Brazil recently.
In less than a week, the FINA Swimming World Cup kicks off in Doha, and she’s already back in training as one of 16 young athletes representing Qatar at the tournament.
Though Arakji is only 21, she has many years of experience compared to most of her teammates, as the average age for the Qatari swim team is just 15 years old.
This will be the athlete’s third FINA world cup, after swimming the 50m freestyle and 50m butterfly in 2014 and 2015.
It comes on the heels of her second Olympic appearance, after she competed in the Women’s 100m butterfly event in Rio de Janeiro.
As she gets ready for the latest competition at the Hamad Aquatic Center, which runs Oct. 8 and 9, Arakji spoke to Doha News about competing in the Olympics.
She also shared what it feels like to be one of the people smashing stereotypes for young women in the country.
This year, Arakji was one of only two female athlete to qualify for Qatar’s national Olympic team.
She said this alone made her proud of her participation in the summer Olympics.
“Being (one of the) only women on the Qatari team is an honor. It felt very empowering that I am breaking stereotypes and can be an example to many young females out there.”
However, the athlete did attract some criticism locally for donning a bathing suit in front of the world. Arakji declined to comment on this.
Separately, she did tell Doha News:
“That moment when I held my country Qatar’s flag up high and walked in the parade with so much pride was something I will never forget.”
Arakji made her Olympic debut in London in 2012 and made headlines in the process.
She joined field sprinter Noor Al Malki, shooter Bahiya Al Hamad and table tennis player Aya Majdi as the first Qatari women to have competed in the games since the country began participating in 1984.
“Thinking back on both my experiences, it’s crazy to see how much I developed as a person. In London, I was a beginner – I was in high school and it was my first experience,” she told Doha News.
“In Rio, I felt more confident, having gained experience and knowing what to expect,” she added.
Recently graduated with a business degree from Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar, Arakji has started working with the Qatar Olympic Committee. But she already has an eye on the future, with plans to start her own business eventually.
Aside from getting prepared for the upcoming FINA cup, the athlete is also doing more land-based training and wants to compete in 5k and 10k running races, “just to get my stamina going.”
But her future plans are all derived from her role as an Olympian.
“It’s one of those experiences in your life that are so unbelievable that it’s hard to grasp,” she said, referring to competing in the games.
“My journey to the Olympics wasn’t the easiest – I did have to make sacrifices, but it was worth it because this allows me to make a difference, to inspire changes to empower more women and to be a sports ambassador for all the women out there to follow their dreams despite the obstacles.”
While her training schedule has been rigorous throughout her swimming career, it went up several gears in the run-up to Rio, requiring a whole-hearted commitment.
“I couldn’t pick and choose when I wanted to swim,” Arakji recalled. “I was swimming almost every day of the week, which didn’t leave me much time to have a social life with my family or friends.”
During the Olympics, the atmosphere and pressure put on athletes can be immense, but Arakji said the support she received from her family, other athletes and the committee helped her get through it.
And she has come a long way since her first-ever race, when she remembers being sick before getting in the water.
“There are so many thoughts going through my head before the start of a race, so many mixed emotions. I’m anxious, a little nervous, excited and pumped all at the same time, which is overwhelming,” she said.
“Of course, it’s not easy to stay calm in such an experience, but I always say to myself that everything will be okay and that it’ll be great no matter what so just enjoy it!”