I have been Olympic Weightlifting for four years, and participating in Crossfit for two. I launched my website LiftingCovered.com to document my experiences weightlifting in U.S. national competitions.
Who Are you?
I was born in Kansas City but my family comes from the Khyber Pukhtunkhwa region of Pakistan. I grew up visiting Pakistan, and much of my extended family live there. My family speaks Pushto, so that is the language I know (though don’t speak very fluently, I have better listening skills) and know very little Urdu.
I have been Olympic Weightlifting for four years, and participating in Crossfit for two. I launched my website LiftingCovered.com to document my experiences weightlifting in U.S. national competitions. I was able to compete in my first U.S. national competition in Iowa in July 2011.
Later in 2011, I was chosen to represent Pakistan as their first female weightlifter in the 2011 World Weightlifting Championships in Paris, France. That competition also marked the first time that any weightlifter had competed while wearing hijab internationally. In 2012, I went on to represent Pakistan once more at the Asian Weightlifting Championships in South Korea. In 2013, I took a break from major competitions. I still train and went to a few local competitions. 2014 is undecided for me, but if things fall into place, I might try to compete again.
I received my PhD in electrical/computer engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology. I currently work as a visiting scholar at Georgia Tech. My research in my PhD thesis and now is in information visualization for network security, specifically for analysts to better understand and interact with the data. I am also currently consulting on a project at Georgia State in understanding the role of technology in CSEM – Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Minors. Earlier last year I have gotten interested in machine learning and data science and am working on learning and practicing these skills. My goal is to find full time employment, part-time or contract work, while I works on these projects in the interim.
What are your favorite quotes?
“I love myself when I am laughing. . . and then again when I am looking mean and impressive.”
“Sometimes, I feel discriminated against, but it does not make me angry. It merely astonishes me. How can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company? It’s beyond me.” – Zora Neale Hurston
“Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.” – Desmond Tutu
“The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses – behind the lines, in the gym, and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights.” – Muhammad Ali
“The only dream worth having is to dream that you will live while you are alive, and die only when you are dead. To love, to be loved. To never forget your own insignificance. To never get used to the unspeakable violence and vulgar disparity of the life around you. To seek joy in the saddest places. To pursue beauty to its lair. To never simplify what is complicated or complicate what is simple. To respect strength, never power. Above all to watch. To try and understand. To never look away. And never, never to forget.” – Arundhati Roy
What Ayah of the Quran do you hold close to your heart? Why?
Surat Aţ-Ţalāq (The Divorce)
65:7 “…God does not burden any soul with more than He has given it– after hardship, God will bring ease.”
This along with many of the other ayat about hardships: the benefits, the mercy, the learning from them – helpful reminders, especially with having a positive outlook on life. There are many in the world suffering hardships that are worse that I can even imagine which also puts things into perspective.
What Hadith do you wish more non-Muslims knew about? Why?
“The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said: ‘The strong believer is better and more beloved to Allah than the weak believer, although both are good. Strive for that which will benefit you, seek the help of Allah, and do not feel helpless. If anything befalls you, do not say, “if only I had done such and such” rather say “Qaddara Allahu wa ma sha’a fa’ala (Allah has decreed and whatever he wills, He does).” For (saying) ‘If’ opens (the door) to the deeds of Satan.'” Abu Huraira
What is your favorite book?
When I got deep into my engineering studies, my reading of books outside of the curriculum and research went down, unfortunately. But of the books I have read, I could go with Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. I related to the experiences and environment of the characters. I admit a crush on Mr Darcy, in spite of his flaws. My crush on Darcy has been over and my main crush is on Mr. Thornton from Elizabeth Gaskell’s book, North and South. I saw the BBC series but have never finished reading North and South, so I can’t list it, hence Pride and Prejudice.
2. Who inspires/inspired you?
I can’t name one as I draw inspiration from so many great people, but you I am currently really taken with Nelson Mandela. His death made me reexamine his autobiography which is a great story of courage, patience, and forgiveness in the face of adversity.
My personal role model is Aminah Assilmi who I had the honor to meet twice when I had started my graduate studies. She was the strongest, kindest, most amazing Muslim woman I knew, who I felt, in spite of so many obstacles, accomplished a lot. Being able to speak to her and get her encouragement made a difference in my life, especially in dealing with the struggle of not letting others define you and achieving the goals that you desire in face of patriarchal and cultural criticisms which are outside of the spirit of Islam.
3. What is the best lesson your mother/mother figure taught you?
I’m impressed when I think of how she came from Pakistan to a new country (the USA) in the early 70’s with a “strange” man 🙂 from an arranged marriage. She did not know the English language and had only lived in the village in the Khyber Pukhtunkhwa province. Then she had to manage a house and life then soon after, kids, eventually having five of us. And to have done it so well which must have been a challenge because we were like the Brady Bunch kids on crack. She had slowly learned from my father and taught herself English and about the culture and history herein the USA but still held to her religion and culture. I know it was traumatic for her losing both parents who died in Pakistan while living far away. I learned that we have an inner strength and can accomplish more than you think you can, in spite of the odds and challenges you face if you are determined.
4./5. What advice would you give your 13 year old self?/What are your hopes for future children?
Try not to care about others think. It’s going to be hard, people can bring you down, but screw them. Don’t be pressured to fit into a box, seriously. Education is REALLY important and don’t let anyone or anything try to stop you. Aim for a career or work that inspires you and you enjoy, not by what is defined for you, so you will be happy and won’t be bored. It might be difficult, because people want to put us in a box and it is easier to be in one. Learn from your struggles, keep trying things and experiment. Go ahead cry and get back up again. There are going to be times you will feel very alone, and you will feel like you dont know what you are doing or where you are going, because you are taking a path no one might have and there is no guide. But ultimately, be with those who are like-minded, supportive and you will be happier. I learned that we have an inner strength and can accomplish more than you think you can, in spite of the odds and challenges you face if you are determined.
6. What is the biggest trial you went through in your life and how has that changed you?
My father passing which was sudden and traumatic. Losing someone in your life is very difficult, but you learn from the pain and how to heal and cope. Naming a second one, when my weightlifting controversy became public. That was also very sudden and unexpected. It threw me into roles and work I never thought would happen to be, I had very little guidance but the support of friends, and I think if it was not sudden and I could have known the future, it is possible I could have never wanted to weightlift in the first place. The brute force made me learn a lot about myself, and all that I was capable of accomplishing as one person.
7. Any regrets? What’s something that you wish you’d thought about more before you did it?
I think my regrets come mostly from other people saying crap to me and letting it get to me. I do wish I was better at keeping in touch with people, especially my dear friends. Usually, I think A LOT!!! Less thinking, in my case, would be more helpful.
8. How do you bring about real change?
Unintentionally. Doings things, living my life. It does not sound stable or structured, but that is how its resulted for me, just going with the flow and seeing where life takes me.
9. How do you stay grounded?
I do not feel currently grounded, at least in comparison to times in my life that I have been grounded. For me, it is a challenging, and some points in my life it can be very difficult. The problem is my brain. It is so used to being in a state of problem solving, thinking, analyzing, and on top of that, I absorb my environment and that can create additional emotions and sensitivities. I also care about others, which I know is a good quality, but the downside to that is because I think and feel so much, it can bring my energy level down and cause stress. I have to remind myself to remember to take care of myself and not burn out. Most importantly, I have to remember God, who I believe in. There is a reason for the things that happen in your life that we will never fully understand. But I hope I can do the best to learn from the past, respect the thoughts and feeling that may come up, but not to sit with them for so long, and keep moving forward.
What do you hope to be remembered for?
I dont know. But YOLO! LOL
Video Message from Kulsoom:
More about Kulsoom:
My weight lifting blog archiving my journey: http://liftingcovered.com/
Facebook athlete page: https://www.facebook.com/LiftingCovered
My academic website: http://kulsoom.net/
LinkedIn profile: http://www.linkedin.com/pub/kulsoom-abdullah/1/488/311
Links to my press coverage category page (from my website) which includes everything I am aware of: