“You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream” C.S Lewis

20-year-old Zahra Lari, is a dream chaser and an Olympic figure skating champion hopeful, from the United Arab Emirates. As a young girl she was enraptured by the Disney movie, ‘Ice Princess,’ and soon became interested in pursuing figure skating. Her optimism drove her to reach for her personal summit, choosing to challenge the perception many have of women in the Middle East. Sheik Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai is committed to empowering women and supporting them in their pursuit. He said and I quote “Arab women make up half our community. They are sometimes better than men. Today they are rising to greater heights in society and able to achieve goals within our communities. They will only grow”

I was extremely fortunate to have attended the ‘International conference for Sports for Women’ in Abu Dhabi. While I was there I had the privilege to meet and interact with many accomplished Emirati women. One of the more notable experiences was listening to Zahra Lari. In her speech she mentions how her father initially viewed her newfound interest of figure skating skeptically. Her mother however stood in the gap to convince him to let their daughter live out her passion. Later when he accompanied his daughter and as he watched her joy displayed on ice he became her greatest supporter… She may not have started young as many promising skaters did, but this did not stop her from taking a leap and carving her mark.

Today Zahra Lari is dubbed the ‘Ice princess in Hijab’ by the media. She is not only the first figure skater from the Gulf to compete in an international competition but the first to do so wearing the hijab, paying due respect to her Arabic culture. In a frozen sea of flashy tutus and nude tights she is a princess who graces the ice with a difference, wearing modest costumes and a headscarf. Zahra is a woman who embraces her morals and values while identifying herself as a professional athlete. This is a celebration to all women who embrace culture and stand against the tide of commoditizing women.

Apart from wanting her own success, Lari added: “I want to encourage girls from the Emirates and the Gulf to achieve their dreams too, and not to let anyone tell them not to do sport, not only figure skating but all sports.” Zahra is a role model for women in the Middle East and an inspiration to those who wish to pursue their dreams. Her drive and determination to win after having to face many obstacles embodies her as a true champion. She is a testimony to the pay-off that comes along with perseverance and dedication to chase after a dream. I wish her the best, as the United Arab Emirates hopes of a medal would be set on the young shoulders of Miss Lari who is looking to make her mark at 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.