Ibtihaj Mohammad - One of the women in the Hilary and Chelsea Clinton book Gutsy Women

We never know where life is going to take us to, and I was pleasantly surprised to make a fantastic discovery at my local library today. Walking into the front door of my local public library, I saw a shelf with the label “Lucky Day”, which is a place where the staff curates a series of new releases for lucky readers. Sitting front and center on the shelf was a book about women who have left their mark on the world. It looked interesting, so I picked it up and it fell open. You’ll never believe where it fell open to! It was a page about a fencer! 

Wow!  Needless to say, I was totally shocked. I could not have imagined a fencer in such a prominent book. I’d actually heard of the book before I picked it up. Hillary and Chelsea Clinton recently released a book that they collaborated on called The Book of Gutsy Women: Favorite Stories of Courage and Resilience. I’d noticed an interview with the authors on TV not long before in which they were talking about the book. Though I knew the idea of the book from seeing that, I had no idea that I would find our very own Ibtihaj Muhammad would be featured, though it certainly makes total sense that she would be a part of a book about gutsy women and trailblazers. 

The authors describe the vision of the book like this – “If history shows one thing, it’s that the world needs gutsy women. So in the moments when the long haul seems awfully long, we hope you will draw strength from these stories. We do.” How can you argue with that? As a man who is blessed to have gutsy woman in my life, as well as the father of daughters, I see the importance of this book. I see the importance of these women. 

Showcasing inspiration 

This book showcases women who have left their positive mark on society, who have transformed the world around them. So many remarkable women have made incredible changes, and many of them we have never really heard of. 

The book itself is a great read. It’s different than other books because it’s like a conversation between Hillary and Chelsea Clinton, a mother and a daughter who themselves hold a prominent place as trailblazers. They bring the perspective of two different generations to the profiles, which makes the book something different than other simple histories.  

It includes more than one hundred descriptions of women who have been innovators and influencers in sections. These include Early Inspirations, Education Pioneers, Earth Defenders, Explorers and Inventors, Healers, Athletes, Advocates and Activists, Storytellers, Elected Leaders, Women’s Rights Champions, and Groundbreakers . Make no mistake – this is a history book and not a political one. Many of the women included here have been largely overlooked by standard history, or many of them have been misunderstood by the average person. That’s what makes it so exciting to read. 

The book is organized into quick vignettes that you can read in chunks. They are organized into sections by theme, so that you can sit down and learn about groups of gutsy and interesting women in one sitting, then come back for more. This makes it a quick read, but also an interesting one. Each profile goes into enough detail that you can learn something interesting about the woman profiled, even if you know something about her already. Or you can get a different perspective thanks to the commentary from the authors. 

I’m not saying this is the best history book that you could get about influential women. What I am saying is that it is a very important milestone because it includes so many women that are often left out of history. 

This book did make it to the New York Times bestseller list in the first few months that it was out. 

Fencing takes its place

Sports has a big place in society, and there are superstars who are inspirational and important. 

Famous women like Michelle Kwan, Venus and Serena Williams, Aly Raisman, Amy Wambach, and Tatiana McFadden were profiled in this book for their being so determined and accomplished.  It is really a remarkable thing for Ibti to make it into this section on athletes that only includes twelve other women. These women were hand-chosen by the Clintons, and for them to have this incredible fencer as part of their book is exciting. It’s also very much deserved for the contributions that Ibti has made. Everyone included in the book is full of grit and is powerful, without exception. These are the ambassadors of gutsiness, the women who are out there pushing the boundaries of conventions and beliefs. Here to have our fencer is totally incredible!

Ibtihaj Muhammad is a sabre fencer who has taken a huge role in the consciousness of America and beyond since she exploded onto the world stage in the 2016 Olympics in Rio. She competed individually, where she made it through the first qualifying round and then lost to a French rival in the second round and was out of the competition. She would go on to be a part of the incredible USA women’s sabre fencing team in Rio, going on to win the bronze medal. This made her the first Muslim American woman to medal at the Olympics. 

Another thing that sets Ibtihaj apart is that she was the first American woman to wear a hijab in competition at the Olympics. This is a massive milestone for fencing and for inclusion in American society. To see her up there competing with her head covered, well it shows really what the American spirit is really all about. We are a nation of diversity and tolerance, as well as of aspiration and hard work. It’s interesting to note that her hijab is one reason that her parents chose fencing for her because it was a sport is that allowed her to wear her hijab while she competed. 

This accomplished athlete competed for Duke University, where she was a Junior Olympic champion and an All American three times. She trained with Peter Westbrook before and after she competed at Duke. She’s also a five time World medal champion. 

Muhammad has developed beyond just fencing. She’s was the model for a Barbie doll in a hijab for Mattel – a fencing Barbie! She works with the United States State Department on empowering girls through sport. She’s also written two books of her own. These are Proud: My Fight for an Unlikely American Dream and Proud: Living My American Dream.

I am so proud to say that she is an ambassador for fencing and for gusty women. She deserves her place in this volume of determined and accomplished women. 

Ending 2019 with grit and grace

Somewhere along the way we made it to the end of 2019, and what a year it has been. What a decade it has been! Over the past ten years, fencing has risen in prominence for the United States, but 2019 has been nothing short of blockbuster for us. American fencing is at its highest rank in the history of the sport. This is not just because of our fencers who have grown from youths to old guard in the last decade, but it’s also because of the spread and growth of our young fencers. American fencing, through grit and determination, has put down roots that are fueling growth above towards the warm sun. We are spreading, we are improving, and we are more than we were before. 

It’s an exciting time to be an American fencer. It’s an exciting time to be a fencer of any nationality! The sport is stronger than ever, and that’s only going to keep going into the next decade. Ibtihaj taking her place among the most prominent public figures and being highlighted in this book is a milestone of the passing decade that is important and relevant to fencing as a whole. We are more visible than ever, and we as a sport are showcasing the diversity and determination that makes America so great. Ibtihaj is a shining example of that. 

This post marks the symbolic end of our blog year, a reflection on grit and strength. We’re going to need it in 2020 for the Olympics! We thank you, our readers, for sticking with us this year. There are big things on the horizon for the AFM blog in 2020, and we invite you to come along with us on this fencing journey. 

Happy Holidays and here’s to a sparkling New Year! Thank you to our readers!