Muneera Al Hubail is one of the first women from Abu Dhabi to compete internationally at CrossFit, having reached the finals in the Battle of the East international competition in Kuwait in November.
The 28-year-old Emirati passed another important milestone last month when she managed to lift the equivalent of her own body weight over her head. Al Hubail’s ultimate goal is to be a grandmother who can carry her grandchildren with ease. “I want them to have pictures of me lifting, and show them off to their friends,” she says. “Beauty fades, but strength will help you all through your life.”
Strength is a useful asset in Al Hubail’s work as a police officer. She packs in workouts six times a week, on top of her day job. But it was a different story when she was an IT student at the Higher Colleges of Technology.
“All I did at college was study, sleep and eat,” she says. “I was addicted to food, it was so bad. Then after I graduated, my weight problem got worse because I was just lying in bed with nothing to do.”
Her weight peaked at 85 kilograms, which her doctor explained meant she was obese. This was a turning point.
“I knew then that I had to change,” she says. “My weight was getting out of control and I was the reason.”
At first, Al Hubail felt too shy to participate in fitness classes. “I was scared that people would make fun of me, I was so big. But despite all my fears, I just knew that I had to start moving.”
Nowadays, Al Hubail says she has “tremendous respect” for those who are overweight who come to the gym.
“They shouldn’t give up, because the people they see there who are fit now were most probably just like them once,” she says.
Watching what she ate wasn’t without its challenges. “I had to cut off a lot of my friends, because all they wanted to do was go out and eat junk food.”
She started running regularly as part of her cardio routine, and enrolled in a 10-kilometre obstacle race, the Urbanathlon, in 2014. She was scared of what her family might think, so she decided not to tell her mother beforehand.
“When I came back from the race all wet and covered in mud, I said: ‘Mum, look what I did, I ran a 10K obstacle course.’ She said: ‘Why didn’t you tell me? I would have come.’ My mum is very supportive. I know I’m lucky to have her.”
Through her growing love of sport, Al Hubail came to realise that she was naturally competitive. “When I used to go to group classes, even if it was Zumba or yoga, I was always trying to be the best,” she says.
Two years ago, she tried her first CrossFit class at Vogue Fitness on Yas Island, which fed her competitive streak. But CrossFit turned out to be about more than just competing.
“It’s been eye-opening to be part of a multicultural community,” she says. “I used to be a sore loser, but in CrossFit, when you finish a workout, you don’t just stretch, you cheer on the others. You always see people high-fiving, and giving each other advice. I’ve learnt a lot from my fellow CrossFitters about community.”
Al Hubail has lost more than 10kg since her college days. During Ramadan last year, she gave her first motivational talk about her weight-loss journey, to a group of Emirati women at Yas Marina Circuit, as part of the #ADMovement.
“I try every day to become an inspiration to other Emirati girls,” she says. “Now I have total strangers coming up to me and saying: ‘You inspired me to push harder.’ I’m glad they took my advice. You never know what a word or two might change in someone’s mind.”
As well as interning to be a CrossFit instructor, Al Hubail is the coach of the running club at Yas Marina Circuit on ladies’ nights. She advises her runners not to worry about how they look when they run. “Some of the ladies say ‘I look stupid when I’m running’ but I tell them that no one cares. People are too scared of what other people think and that’s what stops them. But no one is there to watch you run, you’ve got to do it for yourself.”
What car do you drive?
A blue Suzuki or a red Jeep, depending on the time of day.
Where do you like to go on holiday?
We have a farmhouse near Al Ain where we get to play around with the animals. Because I’m training and working all week, I don’t get to see my family much, so it’s a chance to spend time with them.
If you could have any wishes granted, what would they be?
To honeymoon in Rio de Janeiro and attend the Carnival there. And to own a huge jungle-gym-themed place where I can relive my childhood by climbing, throwing, crawling, jumping and flipping things.
Are there any exercises that you dislike?
Burpees and rowing always make me sick. It’s the constant movement. My weakness is snatches – lifting a weight from the floor straight overhead – but I like them because they represent power.
How do you keep yourself going while working out?
If you watch athletes competing, you can see they’re having an inner dialogue – ‘Come on, just one more rep’; ‘If she can do it, you can.’
What music do you work out to?
If you saw me running you’d assume I had techno on, but working out is my chilling time, so all my music is calm and chilled, like Mariah Carey, SoMo or The Weeknd.
In what ways do you feel healthier now?
I used to get sick at least once a month when I was obese; now, it’s once or twice a year. When I’m carrying groceries into the house, I’m not out of breath. When I’m on holiday sightseeing with my family, they’re trying to catch up with me. Mentally, I’m stronger. I don’t give up on anything in life now. And the same things don’t bother me anymore. When I was overweight, my pants not fitting used to bother me, but now when my pants don’t fit, I’m pleased, because I’ve gained muscle.
What kind of food did you previously eat that you now avoid?
I’d eat junk food for breakfast, dinner and snacks. But I haven’t had McDonald’s in more than six years.
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A cashier at the supermarket, because I liked the beep sound the till makes.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years’ time?
Coaching and competing. I want to make my parents proud of what I do and make a name for myself.