Athletic Unity: Tumbling VS. Cross-Country Running

When I think about the most meaningful race of my high school cross-country career, it’s as if I can feel the way my clothes stuck to my skin, as I ran in the late-summer heat. I can hear the voice of a spectator cheering the name of my school… powerful enough to make-goosebumps rise on the back of my neck, which was covered by my hijab. I struggled to outrun an athlete who held onto my pace through the last half-mile. But I could still hear the spectator’s cheers in my mind, even as I raced the last hundred meters with my eyes barely open. “C’MON HAYFIELD!” It was that moment I realized the pure sense of unity runners shared. True camaraderie does not concern itself with race, ethnicity, or otherwise. On that cross-country course, I felt connected with even those runners and spectators whom I had never met… because our love for the sport ran deep.

Four years later, my athletic interests have shifted to the sport of tumbling. Though learning new stunts is liberating, the sense of athletic unity is absent. When I toed the starting line as a young teen, I never consciously thought about the way I dressed. It was assumed that runners of all backgrounds were welcome. My coaches respected the coexistence of faith and athleticism which I represented, as I never complained about the summer heat. As I continue to perfect my back-handspring at a local cheerleading gym, I strive to encourage Muslim female participation in sports. But this motive often leads me to feel disconnected from other athletes. Recently, my coach asked, “Don’t you feel hot,” observing the sleeves that covered my arms.

I don’t know where to begin. This question represents a lack of understanding of the value a person assumes of their religious dress. No, I don’t feel hot, or uncomfortable to any degree until my attention was drawn to my attire. The values I represent through religion and tumbling often overlap. If I hadn’t believed in my athletic abilities, I never would have learned to do a back-handspring. Rather than focusing on the fear, I patiently learned how to execute the skill. In the same way, I’ve committed myself to the hijab because I direct my energy in supporting athletic participation of hijab-practicing women, rather than the presumed discomforts it can deliver.

Although I haven’t felt connected with other tumblers lately, I return to the cheer gym with an open mind. During my tumbling class yesterday, I worked with another coach named Jessie. He encouraged me to do a round-off back-handspring for the first time. Jessie heavily spotted my first few attempts until I was ready for a lighter spot. He instructed me to do a power-hurdle round-off and jump up to simulate the push into a back-handspring. I did a round-off, jumped high into the air, and felt his arms catch me. He held me for a few seconds, as I was in shock about not only his strength but also how completely I trusted him. This moment was one of the few times that I felt connected with another tumbler. The color of the arms that held me did not matter, or any other demographics that too often divide us. The expanse of the spring floor was as much mine as it was his… a shared space where athletes come together for the love of tumbling. His hand wrapped around my torso, and his arms supported the weight of my legs. Jessie’s effort to spot me safely was clear. He was as eager to help me achieve my athletic goals as I was.



Human: Part II

Temptation lurches inside my chest, aiming to break through my sternum with its fist. But as my thoughts riot within the walls of my skull, logic chases after them. “Listen to me,” he begs. Logic is a feeble opponent, as his rational explanations are drowned out by the adrenaline that fuels the parts of me that are infuriatingly human. Temptation. Lust. Desire. We are ridiculed for accepting these innate aspects of ourselves. But it’s completely appropriate to honor our sexuality. The difficult part about doing so is determining healthy outlets to express it. In this venture to determine such outlets, our desires clash with the moral compass. As I manage my instincts, my thoughts are in a frenzy. Fueled by euphoria, they catalyze the flow of blood that pulsates through my neck and convinces me that I’m nervous. Can we call it “nervous”? Call it repressed. Call it controlled. Call it a battle between logic and emotion. But my only goal is to embrace these human aspects of myself, lust, and desire and all. All the while, we must keep in mind that logic always has the last word… despite chasing after emotion like a mother does her child. Logic tries to hush emotion, until emotion collapses from the fading adrenaline high. He lays on the floor of my mind, like a fish gasping for oxygen on a dock. We cannot berate ourselves for experiencing a diverse spectrum of emotions that are unique to the human experience. Rather, we can implement healthy modes of self-expression in such a way that integrates morality and self-awareness into our being.


Writer’s Note: This poem captures the experience of my nighttime yoga session yesterday. In writing this piece, I consciously acknowledge my personal and innate characteristics. But what is more valuable to me is to tap into my subconscious mind and embrace the aspects of me that make me human. During my early teen years, I always felt the need to berate myself for experiencing emotions that I presumed were shameful for a woman to have, such as lust and desire. But in this poem, I encourage myself to accept that these are emotions that are an inherent aspect of the human experience. I hope to convey a theme of self-awareness, acceptance, and unabashed self-love. Thank you so much for reading. -Naima


I drag my pointed toes in front of my body,

as I walk


Poised to dance,

I slide into frog pose.

The eyes close as music fuels euphoria.

Frog pose.

Head roll.

I am human.

Standing split.


I am embracing myself.

Open up the chest.

Push the shoulders back.

Every part of me– lust, desire, and all.

Open the rib cage.

Arch the back.

This is me.

Front walkover.


I am infuriatingly, yet beautifully, human.

Camel pose.

Corpse pose.

This is me– accepting and celebrating myself.


Arms outstretched upon landing.

I am emotion and logic.

I am temptation and controlled desire.

I am human. 

Physical Equilibrium

Writer’s Note: This poem recounts the experience of doing outdoor yoga on the campus of George Mason University. The experience focuses on the mind’s activity as I make the campus my yoga studio, which conveys a theme of timelessness and mental wellness. Enjoy! -Naima

Physical Equilibrium

I kicked my right leg behind me,

Shifting my body-weight into a handstand.

Upside down, I listened to the gentle whoosh

of blood travelling from the pulse in my neck

to the temples.

As the heads of passersby turned to observe

this quiet outdoor adventure,

I stepped into their shoes.

From the outside looking in,

I am a yogi,

gently drawing the attention of college students

who are rushing to class.

I am a contortion,

an upside-down figure

a transformative shape.

But this activity is not about aesthetics.

Do we dare sacrifice mindfulness for physical appeal?

In this moment,

my lungs blossom.

Oxygen fills the space between each rib.

The eyes close

for just a moment.

I feel the sun rays

against skin.

I feel the wind

crawl through the fibers of my clothing.

Sound is a coalescence of birdsong and jubilant teenage chatter.

While my photographer captures the image

of me

in physical equilibrium,

I wonder…

How amazing would it be to capture the mind’s activity

in a photo?

Perhaps it would be more beautiful than this graceful pose,

or these pointed toes.

But from now and into infinity,

I stay present.

If I may separate myself from thoughts of worry

or conflict,

then I enable myself to gain a rational perspective,

a well-balanced mind achieved only through a well-balanced lifestyle.

So let me be a contortion,

a shape,

a shadow,

a memory,

a space in time.

Regardless of what you perceive

of me,

I’m glad I lived in infinite forms.

I may live in the memories of loved ones,

friends, family, and community members,

or in the eye of a camera.

Perhaps this perception explains why the word “home” seems subjective.

Here, on these steps where I hold a handstand,

I live.

I create a home.

In mindfulness and equilibrium of mind and body,

I live.

And in this space,

my community members contributed to its positive atmosphere.

My lungs have fully blossomed,

and are freshly supplied with oxygen.

The photographer takes one last snapshot

of my elegant shapes,

albeit unbalanced at times,

but nevertheless,

a work-in-progress.

Discussing a Writer’s Work

My intention of blogging has never been to aim for perfection. If the pages weren’t covered in subtle grammar errors, the site wouldn’t truly be mine. A few years ago, I worked with an editor who was an Oxford University alumna. Although I was relieved to have had help editing my college essays, this process stripped the work of my voice as a writer. I do not blame my editor, as she was a well-qualified and intelligent adult. But I refrained from being my own constructive critic, which hindered my ability to further develop as a writer.

When I ask my friends, family, and peers to read my blog, I don’t expect that they will assume my work to be perfect in every sense of the word. Even the published work of scholars has room for improvement. The grammar errors on this page are not intentional, but they do serve a purpose, as they convey the inherent imperfection of writers.

A fruitful way to discuss a writer’s work is by offering support and politely suggesting improvements. As my former Creative Writing teacher often said, “Comments are always positive.” In guiding these discussions, we must acknowledge that writing is a deeply personal art form. To insult a work without grounds of literary merit is to insult the writer himself. It is vital to conduct conversations about writing with the foremost intention to offer support; secondly, to offer suggestions about a work (on the grounds of merit, of course).

On another note, I developed a passion for writing at the age of 11. But this passion would not have become such an integral part of my life if it weren’t for the teachers, friends, and community members who offered their unwavering support. I would like to thank Ms. Chase, my fifth grade teacher, for encouraging me to make writing a lifestyle. To Ms. Dove, who humorously remarked that her name would be in the “Acknowledgements” section of my first book. And to Mr. Nelson, my high school Creative Writing teacher, who encouraged me to start this blog where I have observed my personal and intellectual transformation.

May we support writers in unleashing their creative and intellectual drive.

Independent Thinker

What defines true independent thought? My history professor provided a cursory glance of the meaning of independent thought, and my intrigue followed me long after I had left the classroom. Before my professor remarked on this subject, I would have asserted that I am undeniably an independent thinker, which I can support not just by assertion (which holds no weight unless supported by action) but also by a distinguished character in a land of assimilationist culture.

In previous works, I asserted that I am not where I come from, which is to say that I do not identify with my origins, familial or cultural. It is a complex identity that coalesces diverse cultural identities with religious thought. It is quite simple for me to tell you that I am a Muslim-American female who grew up in Northern Virginia. But this title does not do justice in conveying my effort to reflect independent thought through various realms, such as creativity and self-expression.

When I was 14-years-old, thorough research on the hijab led me to making the decision to overtly represent my faith through dress. This mode of self-expression required that I learn how to not only build an identity of who I was as an American-Muslim but to also surround myself with those with whom I identified. But a startling aspect of this transformation were the questions I received, the most memorable of them being the following: “Why do you wear the hijab but your (female) family members don’t?”

Allow me to digress.

As I was growing up, I was very much an overthinker. But I didn’t understand all of the ill-informed suggestions that this question implied. I didn’t have the time to tailor my response to those who were either unwilling to consider my perspective or ignorant of major world religions.

My response stripped the issue of all of its wondrous complexity. “I chose to wear it, and my sisters didn’t. It’s a personal choice.”

To my dear, 14-year-old self. Indeed it is a personal choice. But allow me to say now the words I could not articulate when I was younger. I choose to wear the the hijab as a way to build an identity as a Muslim female. I choose to wear it as a representation of my modesty (of character and dress). Your question about why my family members and I don’t share the same practices implies that we don’t all make the same personal decisions.

Perhaps the reason why it was difficult for me to be at peace with the implications of this question was because, in most families, there exists a unity. That is to suggest unity of speech, cultural practices, religious thought, and more. However, this aspect does not exist in all familial structures, as I have had flexibility in determining my own modes of self-expression.

Allow me to reintroduce myself. I am Naima. I am a Muslim-American female. I am an artist, a writer, a blogger. I am a student attending a school in Northern Virginia. And I am not where I am come from. But I am from the diverse groups of people that I have worked with and befriended throughout my lifetime. I am from cross-country practices ending at 6pm on weekdays, from huddled masses of distance runners, from the starting gun… to the very finish line. I am from the tears of joy that spill over my eyelids as self-expression ignites a fire of creativity in my lungs, as I dance unabashedly in my local yoga studio.

If it is any fact that I can simplify, it is that I cannot streamline myself into a single, confined identification. A check box will not do justice in conveying this individuality of thought, of character, of dress…

Professor Schulze.

Can I define myself as an independent thinker, regardless of age?

Can I strip my thoughts from prejudice and external influence and think objectively, despite my demographics?

Can I consider myriad perspectives and use them to shape and re-shape my beliefs?

And if we may redirect our focus to the main question: what does it mean to be a true independent thinker? We cannot pluck ourselves from the earth, and thus, confidently assert that we are not influenced by politics, economics, or other external factors. Rather, we should make a habit of weighing diverse perspectives in order to achieve mental flexibility. We must use our minds as resources in guiding our choices in regards to our modes of self-expression. Only then do we achieve true independence of thought.


Do Grades Measure Work Ethic?

College students take a long-anticipated sigh of relief, as final exams are over. We have more than enough free time to recline on the couch and watch Netflix, count down days until the next holiday, and of course, reflect on the semester past. Laptop lights glow in the faces of students eager to check their grades online. But when all is said and done– grades are submitted and GPA is calculated– we have to ask, do grades truly measure our intelligence? But more important, are they a precursor to how well we will perform in our future careers?

I am a freshman in college , and I rolled into IT 104 class on final exam day without studying. After the test, I rushed out of the room to avoid thinking about the damage that I had likely done to my grade. Well, you can’t go back and change the past, can ya? Long story short, my grades landed me a spot on the Dean’s list (thankfully), but I don’t feel that grades are always a true reflection of hard work. This past semester wasn’t nearly as rigorous as high school was. There was never any need for me to sacrifice sleep, wonder when I would take my next shower (high school cross-country running left little time for personal hygiene), or watch the minutes run away from me as I ate dinner.

One factor that attributed to my swift first-semester success was ample homework time. High school students are required to be at school for 40 hours a week. That’s like working a full time job! You must be in your seat, ready to work for the next 8 hours starting at 8am. On the other hand, my college scheduled left substantial time for me work a part-time job, spend more time at the gym (mental health is critical to academic success), and dedicate spare time for family. I never sacrificed any aspect of my health– sleep, hygiene, or otherwise– to pass a class on good standing. The fact that I put less effort into academic work yet received higher grades than I did in high school is incongruous.

I am confident that I am intelligent student with a strong ethic. However, my grades were a better reflection of my ability to calculate my desired semester-end grade than true grit and determination.



Stop Sign

Writer’s Note: The goal of this poem was to experiment with parallelism to convey that the decision to create a positive mindset is very much a choice. Tomorrow can either be a dead-end or a vast field of possibilities. The thoughts we illicit in our minds is the determining-factor of our moods and sometimes even major life-decisions.

Stop Sign

A stop sign

A dead end

A “no U-turn” signal.

An empty tank of gas.

Driving on a single-lane road in the wrong direction.


A starting line.

An endless cross-country course.

Sun-lit dewy grass.

Tireless legs.

Running on a vast cross-country course on the right path.


A full-tank of gas.

A heart bursting with energy.

A green light.

Positive thoughts that illuminate even the corners of darkness.


Wake up.


Your heart continues to beat,

And the tank is half-full.


All you have to do

Is choose your state-of-mind.

The outcome of your days

Will fall in place.


Tomorrow is no dead-end.

Rather, it is a step closer

To reaching your ambitions.






The Unpaved Road of Finding Employment

After I graduated from high school, I scrambled to find a job. The summer before college is the perfect time to start building a career. I assumed that getting hired was easy, confident that someone would call me for an interview. As I imagined it, I would fill out applications, get a phone call, and get the job. But lazy summer days came and left in the blink of an eye. I was still unemployed, spending my hours wondering when I would start earning my own money.


So I changed my mindset and decided I wouldn’t stop filling out applications until my hope was restored. I applied to a gym, bread shop, coffee shop, and a few retail stores. But my haste hindered me from considering meaningful work. Honestly, I didn’t want to sell clothes for eight hours a day and then wake up just to do it all over again. And I sure as anything did not want to smell like coffee after leaving work. In mid-July, my sister informed me about a job announcement she found on Facebook about a reputable math tutoring franchise.


Although I’ve never been the greatest at math, I have an enthusiasm for working with other people. It’s an opportunity to get out of head and view life from other people’s perspectives. The idea of working closely with students and making a discernible impact in their lives excited me. Now that I was considering my strengths and personal needs, I immediately sent my resume to the owner of the tutoring franchise.


Financial independence is great, but if earning money requires us to ignore our strengths and desires, it’s not worth it. I look forward to my first day of work in an environment that fosters academic progress, growth, and cooperation. And I hope that whatever you do for a living, you find fulfillment and happiness.





Do you know what’s it like to feel? To be anything but indifferent to happiness or injustice? Do you know what it’s like to experience life on a deeper level, rather than to just sit back and watch? Watch the atrocities that take place before your eyes? And you sit still and say nothing. Do you know what it’s like to be lifted by happiness? To feel your heart burst with joy? To feel the corners of your mouth stretch to their greatest extent to form a smile? You listen to the sound of laughter. And it doesn’t move you. You watch tears run down the faces of children. And it doesn’t move you. What is it that will strike some emotion within you? Or do you feel that it’s safer to be indifferent and cold-hearted? That way, you save yourself from attachment and vulnerability. But you don’t have to be afraid to feel, to experience life on an emotional level. You don’t have to be afraid to love, and to cry, and to fall apart before you repair your broken pieces again. Give yourself a chance. Leave your heart on the table in front of you. And feel. Feel how alive you are. A living, breathing being on this planet whose heart responds to emotion, happiness and sadness, calm and chaos, peace and frustration. Let go of the stolid persona you’ve masked yourself in.  You don’t have to be afraid to get hurt. Because those who experience sadness deeply also have the ability to sense happiness with every drop of blood in their veins. Let go. Actively respond to injustice. Reach out to those who are emotionally wounded. Parade in the happiness that others share with you. You don’t have to be afraid.

Caption: To contrast the former image, which depicts pure happiness, I included the rightmost image to convey a solemn mood. These photos were taken on the day of my senior prom (June 3, 2016).