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CrossFit Crosses Barriers

How One Woman is Using CrossFit to Break Barriers in the Middle East

It’s a cold night in Boston. A line has formed outside of Reebok CrossFit One for the live Open announcement of WOD 20.5. It’s been raining all day, and even though we’re waiting underneath an awning, the crowd is steadily getting soaked. And that could have put a real damper on the evening, but not for Noor Dajani. She’s got a big smile on her face. Her black hijab is tucked into her jacket, and underneath a Reebok logo peeks through an open zipper. She’s telling me about her experience running the New York City Marathon the previous weekend. She trained for just two months before the race, but was still able to complete it with a great time (and in great spirits). I think about Noor trying to balance CrossFit, coaching, starting a business, raising two kids, and training for a marathon half a world away from her home.

I smile back at her in amazement.

Noor isn’t your typical athlete and trainer. Born and raised in Jordan, Noor is the only female CrossFit Level 3 trainer in the region. But growing up, hailing from that area of the Middle East meant that certain expectations and limitations were placed on Noor and other women and girls regarding how to dress, move, and behave when men were present. For Noor, those situations intersected directly with her favorite pastime: sports. “I was super passionate about all kinds of sports and movement but… in my case I had to stop participating in sport at a very young age around 10 years old,” she said.

Her family made sure to provide Noor and her 7 sisters enough space to play and practice sport within their home, but it wasn’t enough for her. She wanted a chance to take on sports professionally. But the difficulties of not being able to follow-through with dedicating her time to training eventually caused her to stop. It wouldn’t be until she was 25 years old that she found sports again, and not until she moved away that she could explore her opportunities in a new light.

A world away. In the summer of 2013 Noor relocated to the US for a 2 year period with her family. While living in Ohio, she started educating herself in different areas of fitness through certifications in spinning, TRX, bootcamp, personal training, and finally Olympic weightlifting and CrossFit. She credits her mentor, Aaron Jannetti, owner of CrossFit Endeavor in Hilliard, with helping her build her capacity and confidence as a coach. “Since starting CrossFit I have become more resilient, confident, and self compassionate. The exposure to hardships in each workout, and developing positive attitudes and strategies to tackle each workout, transferred directly to my own life and mentality,” she said.

Coaching others and helping them create better, happier, healthier lives sparked a joy in Noor she didn’t know she needed up until that point. But when it came time to move back to Jordan, she found herself scared that she’d lose herself back in a life with limitations around women in fitness. So, she made a plan to stick to what made her happy. “Doing CrossFit and involving myself with the CrossFit community right away upon my return helped me keep growing my resilience, mental strength and passion,” she said.

Now that she’s back in the Middle East, Noor has a new outlook on training in two respects:

  • As a coach at CrossFit Crescent and at CrossFit 962, and a female in sport and in mixed-gender situations she believes she represents self-trust, toughness, and compassion.
    • “I believe women should have the ultimate freedom to do what they think works best for them in their lives, cultures, religions, families, environments, etc. I know that women in Jordan and the Middle East are going through a lot, but honestly no one will be able to help them but themselves. And the truth can only be tolerated when you discover it by yourself. Changing women is not my goal. Developing and teaching them the tools that they can use to be mindful about their choices on a daily basis is my goal.

      Sport is a great tool and CrossFit especially in the case of developing resilience, self-trust, and stress management… I represent my own self and I know how each individual is special and different, so I am working hard on trying not speak for other women. But now that I’ve found my own voice and decided to speak, I am finding it hard to fit in my past, and I am in the process of creating my future,” she said.

  • As a leader at the intersection of mental health and physical health. Noor knows first hand how important and impactful physical health/activity can be to mental health as well. Today, she’s a member of the 2019 class of the US Department of State, and a part of ESPNW’s Global Sports Mentoring Program. Through her mentorship, she’s launching MePower – a program focusing on both physical and mental health.
    • “I believe that the sensations we intentionally and mindfully put our bodies through can be a huge opportunity to create and destroy mental pathways,” Noor said. “I want to make the MePower program available for members in all crossfit and functional fitness gyms, and especially for women.”

In a nutshell: Noor hopes that MePower can be a pathway for women in Jordan to better balance their lives and overcome the adversity they face on a daily basis. “I hope women stop worrying about meeting expectations… any expectations. I hope they see how it’s OK if you change in any direction you choose. And most important of all I hope they never run away from hardships (even in the form of intense exercise),” she said.

Be sure to follow Noor on instagram (@noor.dajani) for the latest updates on MePower.

Thursday's Training:

"Old MacDonald"

5 Rounds:

100 Meter Farmers Carry (53/35)

30 AbMat Sit-ups

20 Push-ups

RX+ 10 Handstand Push-ups