Fahima Falaknaz, 36, made history last year when she became the first Emirati female boxer to represent the UAE in the Asian Boxing Confederation Championship.
But she is not one to rest on her laurels.
Falaknaz has recently been recruited by Real Boxing Only Gym in Al Quoz to coach a ladies-only boxing and fitness class. Her aim? To break the stereotype that boxing is a "male" sport.
"Anyone can box," she says. "When it comes to sports, there's no such thing as 'male sports' and 'female sports'. Everyone has the ability, the body structure. As a human being, if you are able to freely move your body around, you can box. So, I don't see why some people think it is something a woman cannot do."
As the eldest girl, and the second among eight children in her family, she admits that it took some convincing to get into it herself.
Falaknaz had a keen interest in sports from a young age, taking part in a number of activities – from volleyball or basketball – that were available in her school curriculum. "I also enjoyed boxing and martial arts, but because of cultural restrictions, did not take it any further."
However, in 2016, a fitness company she was involved with introduced an outdoor "Boxfit" class, which she signed up for. For Falaknaz, it was love at first jab. "I enjoyed it so much," she says. "From there, I started improving so fast. Even my boxing partners told me that they couldn't keep up, and advised me to go for personal training sessions instead. I started practising with a trainer, and later discovered Real Boxing Only Gym."
Today, Falaknaz credits boxing with changing her life. Not only has the sport kept her physically fit, it has also had numerous mental benefits including helping her stay focused and improving concentration. “It has made me more dedicated and taught me discipline,” she explains. “In the past, I used to take a long time to make the simplest decisions, but boxing has actually helped me learn to make decisions faster.”
As someone who works a full-time job in customer care, her work can also get stressful at times, and there’s nothing like throwing punches after a long day to release all that tension, she says. “When I get out of the office and into the boxing class, I forget everything. The sessions take all the tension out and make me feel stronger.”
And now she wants other women to reap the same mental and physical benefits of the sport. Falaknaz is aware that some parents – hers included – are not always happy about their daughters joining mixed exercise classes, and that some women may feel uncomfortable participating in sports around men they don't know. It's why she was delighted to hear that Real Boxing Only Gym would be starting ladies-only classes. "I'm really grateful to Michelle Kuehn, the director of the gym, for providing this opportunity for women in the region," says Falaknaz.
While the sessions are open to all women, she especially wants to call upon other Emiratis to step out of their comfort zones, and take up the sport. The classes focus on teaching women the basics, and helping them stay active. “Even if you’ve not done any other sport in your life, you can still start with boxing – it exercises the whole body."
The classes now average about five to 12 women per session, with 50 per cent of the participants being Emirati women. For Falaknaz, it is a sign that times are changing. “Nothing stays the same for long. In the beginning, my family was cautious about me getting into it, but I will continue to work on my journey and do what I have to do, without upsetting them. I don’t want to stay behind as more women get into boxing and achieve their goals.”
Ladies-only boxing classes take place on Saturdays at 4pm and must be booked online per the gym’s Covid-19 precautions. More information on class timings is available at www.realboxingonly.com and 04 272 7774.