Karéz used to think she would never be able to overcome her hopelessness, however, not only was she able to do so, she is now helping others to succeed in their lives as a personal trainer.
29-year-old Karéz Salahadin is a trainer and manager of a gym in Kirkuk City. An energetic mother of two, Karéz always tries to convey a positive and optimistic sense when she speaks.
“The gym is not the only place where I train, all that nature around us is a place to train. The fresh air outside has a good effect on us,” Karéz, who likes to hike regularly, says.
“You are a woman, stay home!”
The journey to get where she is now has not been an easy one. At the age of 21, when she is a third-year English student at Kirkuk University, Karéz gives birth to her second child. And that, she says, resulted in her getting postnatal depression and getting overweight.
“I felt like my body wasn’t my own and was very unhappy about my life, and that I wasn’t behaving and thinking as I used to. Nothing was normal anymore. I was trying to make peace with myself.”
Overcoming the depression was made ever more difficult due to the social restrictions and other hurdles in her way. “I wasn’t allowed to go outside alone. I wasn’t allowed to use Facebook. I wasn’t allowed to work. Even my university teachers would tell me ‘you are a mother, you don’t need to study, go and stay at home’”
In 2011, Karéz quits university as a third-year student due to the mental and physical pressure she was enduring. “I felt like that wasn’t what I wanted to do. My children were very young at the time, and I also didn’t feel like I was making any changes.”
She becomes a housewife, a decision approved by part of the people in her life. “A part of society believes that a mother ought to stay home.”
But Karéz chooses another path and swims against the current to change her life and pursue her dreams.
“I started with losing weight. What helped me most was getting exposed to the world of the Internet and reading a lot about internationally famous trainers, which was a daily positive reinforcement for me. I was delighted to see that most of the trainers were women.”
In 2013, Karéz started training full-time.
“I started with the smallest things; I would wake up early in the morning and go outside and train, which is somewhat unusual [for women to do] in Kirkuk.”
In addition to training, Karéz went back to study in 2016. But this time she chose something she liked, sports.
Dividing her between raising her kids, studying and training, Karéz managed to obtain several certificates from the Iraqi Bodybuilding Union, in addition to one from the British Academy for Sports Medicine and another for Taekwondo.
“It was initially very difficult to convince my family. My family, like much of society, believes that [studying] sports doesn’t have a future and one can’t find a job later. But I proved the opposite.”
My family, like much of society, believes that [studying] sports doesn’t have a future and one can’t find a job later. But I proved the opposite
Karéz currently takes courses related to sports medicine and psychology.
In 2019 she was hired as manager at a gym. Dozens of women take lessons from her.
Corona and a new opportunity
The COVID-19 pandemic opened the opportunity for Karéz to reach women who stay home and unable to go to a gym. She took advantage of that opportunity and has reached women beyond Kirkuk and Iraq.
“My aim now is not just [teaching] sport, but empowering those women who are unable to enjoy life freely and helping normalise their lives.”
“Women often would come to me and say ‘my family doesn’t allow me to go to a gym’ or ‘I have young kids.’ I felt like a sort of duty was calling.”
At the start of 2020, Karéz opened a page for a course for training online, and started using messaging apps Telegram and WhatsApp to communicate with the participants.
Within a few months, 150 women from Kirkuk and beyond, among them Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Europe joined her course, she says.
“I give instructions, not only on sports, but also on the human body, psyche and vitality. I do these things because as a woman I know what women go through and where their pain lies, and how I changed and what the steps of my transformation were.”
I do these things because as a woman I know what women go through and where their pain lies
“I have encouraged many to learn Taekwondo and self-defence, because this is very important for women.”
The participants of her online course must send a report of their activities between 16:00 and 20:00. The communication has led to them getting acquainted with her and confide their grievances to her.
Her job is now intensified. The online course includes instructions on muscle building, fat burning, nutrition and mental health through meditation and breathing exercises.
“It is important for me to assist mothers so that they don’t get lost and have vision, to not fall into confusion between motherhood and raising kids and taking care of themselves.”
“But to whoever reads this story of mine, I want to say that there was a time when I was alone, broke, without support and facing hurdles. In my deepest lonesomeness I put a hand on my own shoulder and encouraged myself. You should, thus, try and work on yourself in silence until you can prove yourself!”