Proud – book review

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Proud: My Fight for an Unlikely American Dream
by Ibtihaj Mohammed
* * * * Stars (Great!)

Ibtihaj Muhammad describes her path to the 2016 Olympics from her childhood, where her parents encouraged all of their children to participate in sports, discovery of fencing (her mother was actually the one who saw the fencing team practicing at the high school Ibti was to attend and pushed her to try out), and how her love and passion for the sport grew. Initially, Ibti was drawn to fencing because the uniform allowed her to dress modestly, in keeping with her Muslim faith. She could also wear hijab (head covering worn for religious reasons) under her fencing mask without drawing attention to herself. She appreciated being able to fit in with the rest of her team and not have to wear something special or uncomfortable (imagine running track in 90 degree weather in long sleeves and long pants!). She started out fencing epee, but when her high school coach saw her intensity, he encouraged her to learn saber. Ibti was ferocious on the strip and determined to win. She later joined the Federation, an area fencing group that offered training, coaching, and competition opportunities, and as a young, talented, up-and-coming fencer, they waived many of the fees involved (membership/competitions). Her success allowed her to go to Duke University and compete on their fencing team, but she did not find the same warm camaraderie among her teammates there. She and fencing parted ways her senior year, and Ibti did not expect to look back. After graduation, she had difficulty finding a job and following the plan she had made for her future. At a loss, she met up with her high school coach who – after sparring with her at his new training center – told her she had the potential to go pro. Ibti took the plunge, but it was never as easy or as much fun as her high school days. The coaches she worked with at the Federation weren’t motivated to help her chase her dreams – she was already aging out of the sport, and not finding the challenges she needed to improve her game. When she made the All-American team, her teammates did everything they could to exclude her, and despite all of the time they spent together training and competing, they never bonded. Regardless, Ibti took pleasure in being an example to other girls and young women – particularly those of color and Muslims. Ibti did make it to the Olympics in 2016 where she and her teammates took home bronze medals and Ibti continues to inspire young athletes through her work as ambassador for the US State Department. Her story is both uplifting and inspirational.

Reviewed by YA Librarian