Breaking Barriers: Areej Al Hammadi's Journey to Football Stardom and Record-Breaking Feats

No matter your gender or background, when you dedicate your heart and soul to a goal, you can achieve it. Trailblazers like Emirati footballer Areej Al Hammadi prove this truth every time. Areej, a key player in the UAE women's national football team, has not only won several accolades, but has also etched her name in the Guinness World Records. Her remarkable achievement involves executing the 'hotstepper' ball control tricks, a swift and continuous motion of tapping the ball alternately with each foot for a full minute.

Areej Al Hammadi's dedication and skill set a new standard for excellence as she completed an astounding 86 repetitions of the trick in Dubai, surpassing the previous record of 56 set in the UK. Her story serves as an inspiration, not only for aspiring female footballers but for everyone wanting to achieve their dream. Connector spoke to Areej Al Hammadi, and her journey is an inspiration for all of us. 

How Did All Start

Having dedicated a significant portion of her life to the sport, Areej has earned a spot on the UAE women’s national team, solidifying her position as one of the premier footballers in the Arab world. However, all this was never easy. 

Areej Al Hammadi fell in love with football at a young age, dreaming of playing for the national team. She fell in love with football as a young girl watching FIFA World Cup games with her family in 1994 and 1998.

In 2015, when the UAE team opened its doors for international competitions, Areej seized the chance. Remarkably, she pursued this dream while already married, with her husband proudly supporting her decision. Subsequently, she participated in the Aphrodite Cup in Cyprus and the 2018 AFC Women’s Asian Cup qualification in Tajikistan. In 2019, she played in the WAFF Women’s Championship in Bahrain. 

Adding more to this, Areej said, "I was married by the time I started playing at a more serious level, and my husband was supportive and proud. My parents were supportive as well but it took them a while to understand the level of commitment and time investment that goes into playing football on a semi-pro level."

And while Areej did get the support of her parents, reaching where she is today, did take a lot from her. "It was a challenging period, but reaching where I am today demanded sacrifices. It involved placing football as a priority over other aspects of life, foregoing social events, and facing both physical and mental challenges. Yet, these sacrifices were integral to the journey, shaping me into the player I have become," adds Areej. 

Football And Society Today 

In a traditionally male-dominated field, Areej Al Hammadi sees a shift. She believes that times have evolved, stating, "Women's football is gaining recognition, popularity, and global support. With increased visibility and investment, positive changes are underway. I'm optimistic about witnessing similar progress in our region soon." Areej's perspective reflects the changing landscape and growing opportunities for women in football. 

She also adds, encouraging collaborations among established sporting entities in the country with significant followings can contribute to this normalisation process.

Guinness World Record-Breaking Journey 

On 29 July, 2020, amid the professional football journey, Areej Al Hammadi achieved something remarkable during the lockdown. Fuelled by her competitive nature and a love for challenges, she broke the Guinness World Record for the most 'hotstepper' tricks in one minute.

Reflecting on this achievement, Areej shared, "I am naturally competitive and always seek new challenges. Breaking the record (86 tricks) wasn't planned initially; it was a spontaneous decision during lockdown when home fitness challenges were trending on social media. I thought, why not break a world record instead? Discovering a potential record in my favourite sport was a chance for me to make history and put Emirati women's football on the global stage."

This impromptu decision added another significant milestone to her already impressive football journey.

Life As A Football Player, What All Goes Behind The Scene 

Areej, also a Senior Manager of Design and Production, offers a glimpse into her daily life to unveil the effort behind the visible hustle. "Balancing a semi-professional football career with my role as a Senior Manager demands careful planning and time management. Whether I'm training early before work or focusing on maintaining energy throughout the day, I transition into my football athlete role in the evening. This involves early sleep and healthy eating, and if not in football training, I'm at the gym for strength and conditioning or outside for a run. A day usually ends with a light meal, gearing up to repeat the routine."

Message For The Young Female Football Players 

With a dream to represent the UAE in the FIFA World Cup, Areej concludes her chat with Connector by delivering a heartfelt message for female football players. 

For female football players, Areej says, "Football is enjoyable but demands true determination and resilience. My advice to every girl is not to be disheartened by the challenges of the sport. Nothing is beyond reach if you work hard, stay committed, and have faith in yourself. Do not let gender stereotypes or societal expectations hinder your progress. Build a supportive network, and persistently pursue your dreams."

Areej also has a special message for all aspiring young footballers, "Believe in your abilities and embrace a continuous learning mindset. This entails dedicated efforts to enhance your skills, unwavering commitment to your training, and resilience in the face of challenges. Success in football, mirroring life, frequently graces those who endure and refuse to give up."

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