JEDDAH — Sarah Attar is the first Saudi woman to participate in the Olympics as a track and field athlete.
Born and raised in California, 20-year-old Attar spoke to Saudi Gazette in an exclusive interview here.
She is currently pursuing a Bachelors of Arts at Pepperdine University in California while keeping up the athletic front, which she said has become more of a lifestyle.
“I think as I grew up in the US I had opportunities to get into sports at a young age. I used to play soccer and was supported by my father who encouraged that lifestyle,” she said.
It was in high school when a friend invited her to join the track team. Fond of long distances and ultra marathons, she said: “I’ve been part of a few marathons like the Boston marathon and like long distances and training. I also joined the track team at college. Sports are a lifestyle.”
Humbled by her experience, Attar said: “I go around living a normal lifestyle. It’s amazing and crazy that I can be a part of it. I used to be in sporting events but to be in that position all of a sudden was incredible.”
Hailed as a young hero in Saudi Arabia, she said people were amazed and surprised yet supportive of her. “I understood it. But it didn’t sink in. My parents were very supportive. They were with me in London during the Olympics.”
When asked about how she dealt with the frame of mind and exceeding pressure during the Olympics, she said: “While I was there I was focusing on such a powerful thing and just kept a positive attitude which helped relieve pressure.”
She knew she was making history. “I knew people were going to react and read about it.”
Attar said it was more empowering to be an influence on people than to focus on what was happening.
She said she realized how impactful, important, positive and influential her participation was for her country after the Olympics. Although she had never envisioned being part of the Olympics, she said it was a huge part of her life and will remain to be so. “It was impactful and an amazing experience.”
When asked about the impact it had on the younger generation in Saudi Arabia, Attar said: “One of my younger cousins had a class project on me. Their PE teacher had my photo up in the classroom, so they called me for interviews and it was great to talk to them. I mean, it is a big thing. I know the act itself does not change everything but you have to start somewhere. Everything begins with a step.”
Overwhelmed by the support, she said: “I am just happy to be part of the inspiration for the younger generation.”
Attar was deemed as the young superhero of all women across the Kingdom during the Olympics and inspired many young girls to join sports.
She said: “It makes me happy to talk to people and see how much it meant to them. It was good to hear how just an experience of mine helped inspire so many people; that in itself is so meaningful.”
Leading by example, Attar wants to be the influence of a healthy and sporty lifestyle for the younger generation of Saudi Arabia.
Attar said: “I plan to keep up my running. I like to do it competitively. It’s good to be in athletics and to have a positive mind-set. I do it for the love of the sport.” She said it is a very powerful thing to have in one’s life. With greater expectations and questions about the future, she said: “Yes, everyone wants to know if I will be part of the next Olympics. I know many Saudi women will come; they are definitely more open about it. And me participating is definitely a possibility I am looking forward to it.”
Her message to fans and supporters: “Always pursue your passion, no matter what it is and keep a positive mind. With these two things, you can achieve whatever you want to.”
Her motto for Saudi women is to “keep moving forward.”