Whoever said athletes are one-dimensional? Meet the UAE women's jiu-jitsu team, some of whose members aspire to become diplomats, medical doctors, aeronautical engineers and fighter pilots.
A majority of them are still in their teens and excel in academics. It just also happens that they love jiu-jitsu, and are very good at it too.
Members of the national team were among more than 1,000 competitors in action at Al Shaheed (Martyrs) Jiu-Jitsu Championship on Friday, with 108 medals up for grabs at the Mubadala Arena at Zayed Sports City in Abu Dhabi.
Hessa Al Shamsi, 17, who came out on top in the blue belt special Division 2, is a Grade 11 student at Janeli School in Al Ain who hopes to one day serve her country as its ambassador.
Her teammates are just as ambitious.
Mahra Al Hanaei, 16, is focused on a career in medicine. Maitha Shirem, who clinched gold in the 52-kilogram category, is a year older and pursuing aeronautical engineering.
And when Bashayer Al Matrooshi, also 17, is not busy pinning her opponents to the mat, she is aiming for the skies to become a fighter pilot.
“Me and my national team and Al Ain Club colleagues are all pretty good in our academics, and [we] have got similar goals to pursue on professional careers," Hessa says, referring to fellow champions Bashayer and Mahra.
“Academics are very important, but we have no intentions of quitting jiu-jitsu that has given us so much joy," the bronze-medal winner at the recent Abu Dhabi Grand Slam Rio de Janeiro adds. "All of us want to become black belts and bring as many international medals as possible for our country."
Even as Hessa has big ambitions for herself outside the sporting arena, she does not forget to live in the moment.
“This will be the last competition in the juvenile division for me and some of my national team colleagues," she says. "I’m glad to finish it with a gold medal-winning effort."
With the Asian Games scheduled for August 18 to September 2 in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta, the women’s team are taking every competition seriously to prepare for the continent’s biggest sporting event.
The next big competition for them is the Grand Slam Abu Dhabi in January followed by the Grand Slam London in March and the Abu Dhabi World Professional Championship in April.
“Of course our federation will make arrangements for our preparation for the Asian Games, but as individuals we’ll take every tournament as part of our preparation,” says Mahra, who claimed her second gold in a Grand Slam event when she won the juvenile blue belt in Rio de Janeiro.