Tell me a little bit about how you got into powerlifting?
I had always grown up doing sports. I did tae kwon do and martial arts in elementary school, ran in middle school, and swam in high school. When I got to college, I always found myself interested in the weights. I just never knew how to use them. I decided to teach myself how to lift and eventually found out about the sport of powerlifting. I found a black iron gym in Brooklyn that specialized in powerlifting. There, I learned the big three powerlifting movements: the squat, bench, and deadlift. Ever since then, I've been training the three movements and competitively powerlifting.
Did you ever feel that being a woman was a hindrance in your sport? Do you see a lack of representation of women an issue in powerlifting?
I think that women are well-represented in the sport of powerlifting. Men and women use the same powerlifting bar for competition, have the same rules, and have similar weight classes. However, I do find that there is a lack of women of color, and more specifically, black women in the powerlifting world. When I first started powerlifting, it was hard for me to find someone who looked like me or came from a similar background as me that I could look up to.
What advice would you give women who wish to enter powerlifting and this industry in general?
My biggest advice to any woman who wants to start powerlifting is to be ready to work hard. The sport itself is grueling with all of the training sessions, but it all adds up when you see yourself lifting heavier each session and getting stronger. Competitions are a super fun aspect of powerlifting. There's a lot of positive energy and enthusiasm when people compete. The community is great and everyone cheers for each other at meets. I have met so many great women through powerlifting, many of whom are my teammates, training partners, and friends. I even met my best friend, Xinhui Yong, President of the NYU Girls Who Lift Club, through powerlifting. In short, my biggest advice for a female powerlifter is to find other female powerlifters to train with and befriend.
What do you love about powerlifting?
I love the confidence that powerlifting has given me. You enter a whole new world once you realize you can lift 200+ off the ground on your own. I used to walk into the gym incredibly nervous because I would often be the only girl in the weight room. Once I realized that I could lift just as much or even more than the boys could, I gained a lot of confidence and was able to go in to the weight room and train without caring about what anyone thought. This confidence extended into other parts of my life. I found it easier to speak up for myself and advocate for myself when necessary.
Do you have a mentor in the industry? If so, what is their gender? Do you think female mentorship would help increase female visibility within powerlifting?
I don't have a mentor in the industry, but I do look up a lot to Monet Bland. She's a super strong female lifter who holds a bunch of records in the 84kg weight class. She amazes me with how she is able to balance working as a researcher and physiologist with powerlifting.
When I was younger, I would have never thought about being a powerlifter because I didn't know the sport existed and I didn't see very many women in strength sports. However, had I seen a woman powerlifting on television or at the gym, I like to think that I would have been interested in the sport. While I don't currently have a mentor in the industry, I am part of a group of women powerlifters who discuss about life, training, and meet up with each other every now and then. This group has allowed me to become a better powerlifter and a better Salma, because I am able to check in with women who are going through similar training regimens and struggles. Together, we are able to advise one another and come up with solutions to our problems. Female mentorship is important, which is why I've included it in the program I am working on, StrongHER Girls. We pair girls up with mentors in different professional industries so that way they can maintain mutually beneficial relationships with each other, continuously learning and growing.
Tell me about Strong Her.
StrongHER Girls is a program dedicated to uplifting underserved communities of girls of color. We do this through a series of workshops to build strength from the inside-out. This way, the girls we work with have mental as well as physical fortitude. If you know anyone that would benefit from this program or would like to get involved, email us at Stronghergirls@gmail.com!