SRINAGAR: Every day at 5 pm, the world almost stops for 19-year-old hijab-clad weightlifter Salbeena Aslam Shalla. Stepping out of her college gate, she rushes directly to the stadium to pump iron. From an ordinary student next door, Salbeena turns into a professional athlete in just a blink of an eye. Wearing a heavy hijab and sports gear, she trains under qualified coaches for five hours daily.
From Squats to Deadlift and from Rows to Curls, Salbeena works hard just to qualify for the nationals. She had almost qualified last time but Covid crashed her dreams. But she did not give up and started preparing again.
Salbeena has a unique honor under her belt. She is probably the first hijabi professional weightlifter in the country. “It is an honor to be the first hijab-wearing weightlifter of the country. There are codes in weightlifting but hijab is allowed. However, you have to follow rules,” she told The Kashmir Monitor.
Coming from a middle-class family in Srinagar, Salbeena wanted to be a powerlifter. She started training as a powerlifter when her coaches asked her to switch to professional weightlifting.
”Powerlifting is not a recognized game. My coaches persuaded me to try professional weightlifting. I heeded their advice and as they say, the rest is history,” she said.
For the last one year, Salbeena has been working hard to make Jammu and Kashmir proud. She is the first woman athlete from her family to join professional sports.
“My family has always supported me. You know how Kashmir society reacts. But I am lucky that I have always been shielded by my family. They are my backbone. Even my friends have backed me,” she said.
Salbeena is not only a weightlifter but also a fitness trainer. “I work as a fitness trainer in a gym. I train young girls and that gives me the biggest solace,” she said.
For a 19-year-old, winning the weightlifting championship is not only a goal but a means to empower women. “There are very few girls in sports. In weightlifting, there are fewer. I wanted to break this stereotype and do something to make my family, J&K, and the country proud. I want girls to come forward to try weightlifting. When I started, there was no girl in weightlifting. Now, some girls have joined in. I think this is one positivity which my participation could bring,” she said.
Salbeena has chalked out a proper regime for training and studying. A student of BA (first year), she trains for five hours every day. Later she devotes time to her studies because she does not miss out on her education. “I am working hard to qualify for nationals in the 55-kilogram weight category. There are still three months left and I hope this time I will make it, Insha Allah,” she said.