Lina Khalifeh: SheFighter
When Lina Khalifeh was young, all she wanted to do was play football with the boys in her neighborhood in Jordan. But the boys bullied her, and her family punished her for getting into fights. That’s when Lina’s mother signed her up to learn taekwondo. Later, with 20 national and international gold medals under her belt, Lina became frustrated with the violence against women she saw all around her. She created SheFighter, the first women-only self-defense school in the Middle East. Lina works with women all over the world to learn self-defense and inspires them to take on active roles in society. Since the program’s inception in 2012, SheFighter has trained more than 25,000 women in 35 countries.
Note: We encourage you to listen to the audio if you are able, as it includes emotion not captured by the transcript. Please check the corresponding audio before using any quotes.
IBTIHAJ MUHAMMAD, HOST:
So I grew up in a African-American household, and what that means is you play sport whether or not you want to. Sport, I think, is very almost, like, centric to, like, family dynamic. So if you’re not playing outside until the streetlights come on, on Sundays, we watched, you know, football as a family. So I just feel like sport has always played this really, like, pivotal role in my life in some capacity. And as a young person, even before I began to wear hijab, my mom would always have to kind of, you know, adjust the uniform, whether it was adding a long-sleeve top or adding a pair of spandex or tights to our team uniform, like, the shorts that we’d wear. I’d always be, in some way, shape or fashion, a little different from my teammates.
And I remember at 12 years old, I was at a stoplight with my mom, and we could see athletes who were fully covered. They had on white jackets, white pants. They had what we thought were helmets. They had swords in their hand. And my mom, I remember her saying, “I don’t know what that is, but when you get to high school, I want you to try it out.” It was fencing.
When I put on my fencing mask, it was—I was like a superhero. That’s how I felt, because no one knew what I look like. They didn’t know that I wore hijab. They didn’t know that my skin was brown. They didn’t know that I was a girl. And so there—there was this immediate allure to the sport. Fencing is a rollercoaster that I got on at 12, and I just never got off of.
From Doha Debates and Foreign Policy, this is The Long Game, a podcast about the power of sports to change the world. I’m your host, Ibtihaj Muhammad.
And I’m executive producer Karen Given. In today’s episode, we’re going to meet Jordanian taekwondo champion Lina Khalifeh. Like Ibtihaj, when Lina found her sport, it made her feel like a superhero. In 2012, from her parents’ basement, Lina founded SheFighter, the first self-defense studio for women in the Middle East. SheFighter has since expanded to more than 35 countries. And just a note before we get started: this interview covers some sensitive topics, including violence against women and so-called “honor killings.” Here’s Lina.
I always questions things since I was young, and I was getting bullied a lot by the boys in the streets. When I was in the streets, I always wanted to play with boys—football, which is soccer in the US—but they never let me, because they said girls should, you know, they belong inside. And I said, you know, “Who are you to tell me that?” And then we get into a fight.
[HARD ROCK MUSIC]
If you have a personality similar to mine, which is a rebel … [LAUGHS]. I could not change that personality. I learned to say “no” before even saying “yes.” And also having these gender roles, right, like what girls are expected to do or behave, and what boys are expected to do and behave. And I was raised in a patriarchal society in Jordan, and I would get punished for saying “no.” Let’s say if an adult tell me, you know, “Sit like girls,” and I would say, ‘How would girls sit?” And then they’re like, you know, “Close your legs.” I’m like, “No.” [LAUGHS] And then I get a slap, you know, or a hit or a punch or whatever it is. I was physically abused a lot, but I could not change my character. I just became more fierce. I’m like, “This has to stop.” I mean, if boys can do things and they don’t even get punished, why am I getting punished for being who I am? So I had to fight a lot. And then there’s a fight inside the house. There’s a fight outside the house. So I was born a fighter. I sat with myself, and I realized I’m born with that soul. I’m being prepared for something bigger.
[HARD ROCK MUSIC ENDS]
KAREN: I’ve heard you tell the story of a day you decided to become a superhero. So tell me about that.
LINA [CHUCKLES]: Yeah. So I was fascinated by the superheroes in general. I was a big fan of Batman. I was a big fan of Spiderman. And they’re always, like, men anyway, so … [LAUGHS]. At that time there was, like—in the 80s, there wasn’t much of female superheroes. Then I decided to become a superhero myself.
[HARD ROCK MUSIC]
I designed a costume. Stupid legging, I guess, and I put the underwear on top of it like Superman. [LAUGHS] So it was ridiculous. And then I got a tight shirt, and I stole some covers from the bed. I cut it, tie it on my neck, and, and then I got my mother’s socks, put it on my head, covered my face. Yeah, I looked silly. But I really felt like I’m a superhero. I think that belief grow with me, you know, believing that I am a superhero. [LAUGHS]
I went outside and you know, I—I called the biggest bully. I was like, “Hey, idiot.” [CHUCKLES] And he, he turned, he look at me. He’s like, “Who’s calling me idiot?” I’m like, “Yeah, I’m, I’m—I’m calling you here. You want to—you want to fight?” [CHUCKLES] So they attacked me, pushed me on the floor. [LAUGHS] I think I cried that day, it’s like, they stop beating me up. But that was, like, my life. Every day, I would stand up. Even my mother would say, “Did you not had enough?” I’m like, “No!” [LAUGHS] “Today’s another day!” [LAUGHS]
[HARD ROCK MUSIC ENDS]
KAREN: So how did—how did taekwondo come into your life?
LINA: Oh, yeah. You know, the Chinese saying, “When the student is ready, the teacher will come”? I felt like my spirit was calling that kind of training. I even thought that everybody else is doing it. I realize when I grow up, not everybody is doing that, especially girls. [CHUCKLES] So yeah, it was my mother’s suggestion, because I was fighting every day. I would come back with bruises, with injuries, and then I had to kind of, at night, face my father, too, because he was, you know—he was making a living, come back from work angry. And he’s like, ‘You’re a girl, you should be inside.” And then again, it’s like another fight. So I—I had a second cousin who owns a taekwondo school. Actually, it’s the first taekwondo school in Jordan, and I started there. And then I fell in love with the whole discipline. You know, it suited my character.
KAREN: Well, I know you were very young, but tell me about the day that you first walked in and stepped on the mats. What—what did you see and what did you feel?
LINA: Oh, it was a different feeling. It felt like I’m home. It felt home.
[SYNCOPATED UPBEAT ROCK MUSIC]
So when I got inside, I—of course, there’s like the environment, the sweat, you know, like the shouts, kids, they’re all training. And I love the fact that you—you know, you have to take off your shoes and step on the mats and respect the mat, you know, respect the training area, bow and also respect your coach. I love that kind of discipline. I was like, “I can see myself here.” I can really do well, because I wasn’t doing well in school in general. I was very active. And I’d always get, you know, yelled at from the teacher. I would get bad grades most of the times, especially in math. So taekwondo, I was excelling. So I realized, like, “Oh, you know, I’m good at something.” It felt really good. It just felt like home.
[ROCK MUSIC ENDS]
KAREN: And I think I would be scared. You weren’t scared to do this crazy thing?
LINA: Of course I was terrified, especially at the beginning when, you know, you have one day for fighting, competition, sparring. That day, I would get very nervous. I would go to the bathroom a lot. [CHUCKLES] And I was so scared. But it always, like, just made me who I am. It’s just stepping into fear. We all become afraid. It’s just—either you surrender to fear or you walk into fire and you’re like, “I’m going to do this even if I lose, or if I fail or if I get injured, I’m going to do this.” And I learn not to, not to give up. Since I was a kid, I’m like, “No, I’m going to do that,” even though I would get beaten up a lot. [LAUGHS] A lot of injuries.
KAREN: So your parents signed you up for taekwondo to keep you out of trouble. How did they feel when you’re like, “No, I’m—I’m going to compete”?
LINA: Oh, yeah, they did not like it. [LINA AND KAREN LAUGH] They’re like, “We thought it’s a hobby.” [LINA LAUGHS] They thought also it’s a phase, you know, like how parents think, “Yeah, girls go into martial arts”—just, you know, like, “They’re going to stop at a certain point.” But I—they did not know, like, I know what I wanted since I was a kid. I know I belong here. And I wasn’t being treated based on my gender. I would get punished exactly how boys get punished. I would get treated exactly as how boys get treated. My coach would speak to me exactly how he speaks to boys, and he would tell me, like, “You can do this,” exactly how he’d say to boys, “You can do this.” But at home it’s like, you know, you have to do things. This is for girls, and this is for boys. That’s when I felt like I’m more myself in a place where they do not tell you who you are. They train you, and they tell you, “OK, show us what you can do.” Later in life, my father’s like, “I thought you were going to stop this earlier.” [LAUGHS] I’m like, “No, you don’t get it. I’m actually preparing myself for the Olympics.” He’s like, “What? Olympics, what?” [LINA AND KAREN LAUGH] And there I was. I was very focused. I was very dedicated to the sport.
KAREN: You really had a chance, but you weren’t allowed to compete. Do I have that right?
LINA: Yeah. So I won, in taekwondo, 20 gold medals, three of them international. I got my black belt three dan, which is a master degree in, in taekwondo. I was, like, the champion of my weight. And they just did not want me to represent Jordan at that time because of where my origin—my grandfather was a refugee from Palestine. So I do hold a Jordanian passport, but I wasn’t been treated as Jordanian. And that’s where reality kinda hits. Like what? What does this has to do with—I’m now here at this moment, and I’m preparing for this. So they tried to push me out of the federation in different ways, writing some things about me in newspapers, saying that I wasn’t good enough, I was short, I couldn’t compete, you know? So I kept fighting and fighting, because I’m a fighter. Like, you can’t just let me walk away. And one day they kind of announced it in front of everybody, like, the CEO of the whole federation, he asked all the men and women to stand up, the whole, you know, athletes. And he said, “Lina.” I said, “Yes, sir.” And he’s like, “If I were you, I would leave. I would walk away.” So I said, “I’m not walking away.” And he said, “You’re answering back?” I said, “I’m not walking away—” because it’s military style, right, like—and he said, “Get out of here.” This is racism. This is like—I tried, you know, I tried to complain. I tried, you know, I’m like, “No, I, I, I trained a lot. You know, I’m the champion. They cannot allow someone else to go there.”
KAREN: Just a note here. I did contact the Jordan Taekwondo Federation to ask about these allegations, but they never responded.
LINA: I realize that it’s a losing battle when I, I was frustrated, and I went to play soccer one day for fun, and I injured my knee really badly, because my mind was busy occupied thinking about how I can get back there and prove myself. So I twisted my knee, and I was taken to the hospital. All my ligaments were torn. The doctors did not know what to do, and they did a big mistake of operating the next day on a swollen injury. You cannot do this. So I was kind of, like, limping for…a few years, let’s say. I could not go back to sports. I was having back aches. I was having badly—like, hip, hip pain. I was, like, depressed most of the times, because I’m not back to the sport I want to pursue. So it took a while to get over all of that. [CHUCKLES]
KAREN: So yeah—so you’ve written about that time of your life and you said, “I decided that my story could not end there. If I was alive, I must still have a purpose.” How did you find your purpose?
LINA: Yeah, that’s also interesting, because—[CHUCKLES] finding your purpose is not easy. I always wanted to solve the problem of violence for women. Especially also—my childhood was not, you know, happy, very happy childhood. I was, you know, I was fighting most of the times, or abused most of the times, or hurt most of the times or injured. I thought that all other girls have the same—similar childhood. I realized not. [LAUGHS] It’s just me.
[SYNCOPATED ROCK MUSIC]
Then I had a friend in college who—I was studying French at that time, and my friend came to university, and she had bruises on her face. And I asked her, “What happened?” And after a bit of time, she explained that her brother and father beat her up every day, take her money, and that’s the situation. And she can’t do anything. I said, “No, you can do something.” I thought, “They’re all fighters like me, right?” They stand up and they’re, like, push someone or, like, hit someone or punch. I realized not. I realized that women and girls, most of the times, they do not even believe that they can stand up for themselves. So that’s where the whole idea of, like—I’m going to train women how to become more confident, how to be more fierce, how to stand up against violence. And that’s where I started self-defense at the basement of my parents house.
[ROCK MUSIC ENDS]
KAREN: And so you were still quite young. You were living with your parents. And you go to them and you say, “I know what I’m going to do with my life. I’m going to teach women self-defense.” What did they say?
LINA: Oh, they did not like it. My parents did not like—[LAUGHS]. My parents never liked what I, what I do. [LINA AND KAREN LAUGH]
KAREN: So did you, did you have to convince them? Was that, like, another fight?
LINA: No, I never convinced my parents. [CHUCKLES] I never even tried to convince anybody about what I want to do. I just go there and do it and prove them wrong. [LINA AND KAREN LAUGH] But I don’t even think about them in the first place. I think about my calling. What do I want to do? What’s the meaning of life if I’m not using what I knew, or how I lived or my knowledge to help others?
[HARD ROCK MUSIC]
I realize that the more I help women or girls, I feel better. I really feel better. I’d sleep without any headache or any thoughts. And in the morning, I felt like I’m a superhero. You know what I mean? [LAUGHS] Finally, I’m a superhero. A superhero that would help them to use their inner power to become the best version of themselves. Most of them, they don’t even know they have superpowers unless you, you show it to them. You tell them like, “No, I can see this in you. Why you can’t see it?” And I had that conversation a lot with many people, like, “How come you don’t see that you can shine or you can even excel?” So I’ve always been that person who sees the good in people and then make them flourish.
[HARD ROCK MUSIC ENDS]
KAREN: Describe those first few classes for me in your parents’ basement—I assume that’s where the classes were. Was it hard to get women to show up?
LINA: Oh, yeah. The first classes, I had few people at the beginning at the basement. Then they started—I started getting a lot. After a while, my father’s kicked me out of the basement, like, “I did not know…” [CHUCKLES] “…this will be in, all in my house. No, it’s not OK.” So, yeah, he loves his house. [LAUGHS]
So I had to find a place. I started renting spaces in gyms until they all also kicked me out, realizing that their members are signing up to my classes. And then a client of mine happened to know a place, a space where—it was a jiu jitsu center, and they moved out. And she said, “Why don’t you just go take a look?” And I said, “I don’t have any money to rent it out.” And she’s like, “Just go and check it.” And she was right.
[UPBEAT SYNCOPATED MUSIC]
The moment I went and checked it, it was a very tiny, small place. I just fell in love with it. I’m like, “You’re going to make it happen.” And I rent it out. I had to deal with the landlord to, you know, to pay in settlements as, as I start making money. And it grew massively. And then after two years, we expanded to a whole floor. And sometimes I get like, you know, hundreds of phone calls a day, and they’re like, “Where is the place? Where is the center? Where—” I’m like, “Come try for free.” And that’s how I got people in. The first session is free.
So SheFighter certified more than 700 instructors globally. We trained more than 25,000 women globally. I’ve talked in more than 300 global stages about spreading the awareness of the importance of self-defense for women and gender equity or equality. So yeah, it started all from, like, the basement, literally.
IBTIHAJ: You’re listening to The Long Game from Doha Debates and Foreign Policy. I’m your host, Ibtihaj Muhammad.
[SYNCOPATED MUSIC FADES OUT]
IBTIHAJ: And now back to our interview.
KAREN: So tell me about some of the women who have come to you and said, “You’ve changed things for me.”
LINA: Oh, those are the best stories. So I had a woman who was assaulted in an elevator. And from that day, she’s just terrified to use any elevator, to be by herself. She’s panicking. And after a few months of training, she came and sat with me, and she’s like, “Lina, you helped me gain confidence back.” And she said, “I’m, I’m just ready. If someone even try to touch me, I’m ready.” Until today, I still receive a lot of positive things from women, sometimes little girls. This is my favorite, where, you know, they get bullied in school, and they come share with me after the training, they’re like, you know, like, “You know what? That boy, when he tried, you know, to beat me up, I stood up for myself for the first time, and I beat him up back.” [CHUCKLES] So, of course, I give her a lot of, you know, like, “Yeah, give me a high five!” You know, and we start flexing our muscles. [LINA AND KAREN LAUGH] I have ways with kids, too, but I love those stories. It means that I am making a difference, even if it’s small. It’s, it’s good news.
KAREN: Yeah, yeah, definitely. Have there also been times when you’re worried about whether it’s safe to keep training a particular woman because her family or husband objects?
LINA: Oh, yeah. I got, like, these situations a lot. I would get, even, brothers standing in front of the center, threatening that they want to kill their sister once she’s out. There’s a lot of, unfortunately, honor crimes in Jordan. They do that. It’s a very patriarchal society, and they give the power to men to do whatever they want to do to women.
KAREN: I want to add a little context here. So-called “honor killings” were once even more prevalent in Jordan. Men would be sentenced to as little as three months in jail for killing a female family member, if they were prosecuted at all. But the laws changed in the mid 2000s. And now the minimum sentence is seven years. Still, Jordan reports 15 to 20 so-called “honor killings” every year. That’s according to Human Rights Watch. Those numbers are much higher in some other countries.
LINA: I had to learn to use another way to deal with it. Not anger, not fighting. Mostly, like, talking. Talking to these men. That’s what I did. Most of the time, even though I want to punch them in the face, I would go out there, close the door and it’s like, “Hey, hi. I’m Lina. I’m the founder of SheFighter. How can I help you?” He’s like, “I want to kill my sister.” [CHUCKLES] And I know it’s not funny, but this happens a lot. And I’m like, “So do you want to come in, have coffee with me?” That’s how I do it. And he would come into the office area where there’s no girls. And I would talk to him, just chat, make him feel comfortable. I would, you know, ask him about his hobbies, what are his dreams, you know, where does he see himself? And I would start telling him that his sister is amazing, and she’s doing great in sports. And then he would loosen up his anger. He wouldn’t be as angry as—and it worked. I did it many, many times with different fathers, brothers. When they’re angry, it’s all in their head, by the way. They think that, you know, “What is happening here? I want to know.” You know, “I’m not allowed to go in. I want to know what is happening.” Right? But when you let them in, show them that, look, it’s a friendly environment. Your sister is actually, you know, really good. And they hear that from a coach that is well known, they start having respect. They’re like, “Yeah, you know what? Yeah. OK, I will—I will let my sister come here.” [CHUCKLES] It happens a lot. But unfortunately there is also bad things that happen. But I would say the positive things were way much more than the bad things.
KAREN: I’m trying to imagine you as you go outside of your offices and meet with these men who are out there with bad intentions. Is that terrifying?
LINA: Well, yeah, it’s terrifying, of course. But I think I am blessed to have a feeling that they don’t scare me anymore. Like, one time—I’m also—sometimes I ask myself, “What—Lina, how come? How did you do that?” [LAUGHS]
Like, one time, I was stopped by the anti-smuggling department, big black cars that just surrounding my car for no reason. They just start to mess up with me, because I look more like boys and I’m a girl. So they just want to give me a hard time. And then they realize I’m answering back, and I’m fighting back. I was very pissed at that time. I’m like, “Search the car.” And they’re like, “We’re not going to search your car.” I’m like, “Why did you stop me then?” And I said, “You know what? Where’s your boss?” I’m like, “I don’t want to talk to you. I want to talk to your boss.” He’s like, “Who do you think you are talking to me like this? I can put you in jail.” I’m like, “No, you can’t put me in jail. I want to talk to your boss or search my car. Let me just leave.”
[UPBEAT GUITAR MUSIC]
He went away. He talked to his fellows and then they actually called their boss. [LAUGHS] They called the boss. He came after, like, 20 minutes of staying under the sun. And I was surrounded, now, with more cars. I was like, “What is this? It’s a show, right?” So he came. Apparently the boss was more chill, which is good. [LINA AND KAREN LAUGH] I wanted to go home that day.
And he’s like, “Hi, everyone.” He said it in Arabic, like, “Salaam alaikum,” you know, like “Peace upon you.” I’m like, “There is no peace.” That’s what I told him. “There’s no peace here. Look at your employees, what they’re doing. They’re surrounding my car?” I don’t know where I got the courage to be standing in front of, probably, 30 policemen at that time, and just fighting with them. Then I realize it’s a non-ending fight. I’m like, “I’m going to go do a phone call.” I called my father and was like, “Hey, Dad.” [LAUGHS] He’s like, “What do you want?” I’m like, “Uhhhh…do you have a minute?” [LAUGHS] “I’m just surrounded by, like, all these cops on this road. Can you just come? Come now. They don’t let me go. They want to take the car, and they want to take me to jail.” And he just rushed. He was so nervous, more than me. I can see him, when he came, he was like, “My daughter’s going to be killed.” And then he—because it’s a patriarchal society, they respect it when a man talk to them, which is, I know, so stupid. But that’s how the culture works. That’s why I had to call him.
So he came and he’s like, “I want to invite all of you on coffee at my office.” And they loved it. And they’re like, “Oh, you know, we—” they told me, “we did not know your father is so funny and he’s, like, so chill.” I’m like, “What?” And my father’s like, he’s like, “Go home.” [LAUGHS] “Go home now.” [LINA AND KAREN LAUGH]
So, yeah, I was in bad situations where I don’t know how I got out of it. Honestly, I stood up really strong. But I think I’m not afraid. I’m, like, completely fearless that I question myself sometimes. Like, you could have been killed in that situation or—but then I have, I don’t know, I have confidence coming from another source, which I cannot even explain.
KAREN: Do you ever get tired of fighting?
LINA: Sometimes I get tired, but then the second day, I’m, like, back to myself. [LINA AND KAREN LAUGH] I’m like—reenergized. Like I slept well, you know, I can do this. I think, in 2019, I was tired from dealing with Jordan. That was a really tough, tough society to deal with.
KAREN: So what happened in 2019?
LINA: Yeah. So I think I—I had enough from—at that time, I was, like, completely drained in my energy, just trying to face that society of, like, always being strong, right? And always dealing with all these problems. And you don’t have the support of the community. You’re just standing by yourself as a strong woman. And I had to always be that person.
The market in Jordan is mostly dominated by men in business. You barely hear, like, a woman owns a martial arts studio or a boxing club. It’s really rare. So they just wanted me out of the market. “Lina’s growing. We don’t want this.” I’m getting a lot of global recognition. They tried different nasty ways to stop this. They sent people to work at the company for months to just collect data. It was very dirty the way they kept sending—and, you know, you’re just busy, you know, helping women, and they’re busy trying to destroy you. Right? And that day, I think I had enough.
So I had six people showing up from the government municipality, and they spent some time there. I wasn’t there. I was traveling. And my team called me and they’re like, “Lina, they put a penalty on the center. If you do not solve this by a month, they’re going to shut it down for you.” So the penalty was very hard to even solve. It was something legally—because they could not find anything; I was operating for like eight years or nine years without any problem. I pay my taxes, I pay—everything is just so fine. So I did not allow them to shut it down. I made the decision to not operate in Jordan. So I said, “I’m going to move to Canada and build my company.”
So now, since the pandemic is almost, hopefully, almost over, I’m expanding to North America, looking for partnerships, and I’m going to start working a lot closely with trainers, fund their startup projects to start their facilities and to start SheFighter in their communities. And that’s my plan to expand the work I’m doing.
KAREN: So do you hope to get back in Jordan someday?
LINA: One day, but not now. I, I think I will. But I would come back more powerful, at least. I will have, you know—operating many, many branches that I’m like, you know, “You want to mess up with me?” [LAUGHS] Yeah. I mean, you learn. That’s how entrepreneurship life is. A lot of challenges. You just have to adapt. A lot of failures. And it’s a lonely, lonely, lonely path.
[SYNCOPATED ELECTRONIC MUSIC]
KAREN: I mean, so—it is still difficult for women, right? Despite all the success that you’ve had, women are still victims of domestic violence—
LINA: Yes, unfortunately.
KAREN: —they still die in honor killings. Can teaching them self-defense really make a difference against such a huge problem?
LINA: Yeah. It is a huge problem, and I thought a lot about it. Self-defense is one way of solving that problem. And of course, when you give them the knowledge physically, they feel, they believe that they can stand up for themselves. I know sometimes fighting against, like, you know, a mad brother or husband or father that wants to kill, you know—he’s like, he can’t see anything else but the devil in front of him. It’s hard. It’s hard to stop that person. But I’ve—I’ve been in situations where there is a way to domestic violence to be solved. Women need to learn how to believe in, in themselves. That’s number one. And number two is physically be, let’s say, not that strong, but be capable of defending themselves. Not surrender, at all, for any kind of abuse or violence. Because it’s like—the bullies, right? The more you allow them, the more they going to bully you. You stand up one time, you stand up 10 times, they’re going to stop eventually. They know that there consequences to their actions. They’re going to try to hurt you, you hurt back. You hurt me, I hurt back. You slap me, I slap back. You hit me, I hit back. And unfortunately, sometimes, you know, communication wouldn’t work. Sometimes you have to stand up physically to those attackers or to those bullies, because they exist a lot in our lives. And you—you’re going to face them everywhere when you grow up. And it might be—and most of the time, it’s someone close to you who’s envy of you, who’s jealous, who’s just—who wants to destroy you, who can’t…. And some, not—I wouldn’t say most, but some people have bad intentions for you. Once you step there into fear, into darkness, you learn how to face it and deal with it. It’s never going to go away, but you just have to learn how to deal with it.
[ELECTRONIC MUSIC ENDS]
KAREN: The story about your father having to come brings up an interesting thing, which is: you’re working with women in patriarchal societies where the ultimate change is going to have to come from men. Right?
LINA: Yeah, unfortunately. Well, it’s, it’s both, right? Women and men, because women also…. So in, in boxing, we say, “We teach you how to treat me.” So women can teach men how to treat them if they know—know it, from the beginning, that they have the power in their hands. So women play a big role in changing a lot of things. They just need to know it, and they need to step into that role and earn it.
KAREN: Do you still feel like a superhero?
LINA: Oh, I still—I still feel like I have more to offer and give. You know, sometimes you think, like, “Should I get, just—have a normal life at some point?” It’s— [CHUCKLES] I don’t think I’m prepared for a normal life. I’m prepared for way bigger things. And I’d really like to influence millions of people, not just women. And men and girls and boys and kids. And if I can change more in their lives, that’s what I want to do the rest of my life. I want to live a meaningful life forever.
IBTIHAJ: That’s it for this episode of The Long Game. I’m your host, Ibtihaj Muhammad. The Long Game is a co-production of Doha Debates and Foreign Policy. Our executive producer is Karen Given.
KAREN: We had help this week from Dan Ephron, Rob Sachs, Japhet Weeks, Amjad Atallah and Jigar Mehta. Make sure to follow us on Apple or your favorite podcast app. And please leave us a review.
IBTIHAJ: To learn more, subscribe to Foreign Policy, a global magazine of news and ideas. Or visit Doha Debates, a production of Qatar Foundation. Next week on the podcast…
KAREN: Kaillie Humphries had already won two Olympic gold medals in bobsled when Team Canada hired a new coach. It did not go well.
In front of other coaching staff, other athletes, in front of the world, I was being demeaned, demoralized, humiliated publicly. The language that was used, the amount of tears that I shed over—just embarrassment, but I started to lose myself. I started to doubt who I was, what type of athlete that I was, whether I could do it or not. And every single time, I would have a moment where I would go, “Wait, I’m a two-time Olympic champion here.”
IBTIHAJ: That’s next time, on The Long Game.