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Changing Culture Through Challenge with Sara Al Awadhi

Caroline Van Hemert - A 4,000-Mile Journey into the Alaskan Wilds.

Driven by passion and curiosity about rock climbing, Sara Al Awadhi is changing the cultural landscape of outdoor sports in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). As an internationally educated lawyer in an intercultural marriage, Sara is in the unique position of being a cultural bridge that opens the awareness of local Emirati people on many fronts including the appreciation of the UAE’s natural resources and environment and how women practice sports and fitness in this culture.

How do you begin to change an ancient culture and inspire women to reach new heights through adventure? Here are some nuggets of wisdom from Sara during our conversation on the Tough Girl podcast.

Follow your desires and the way will appear

Sara experienced rock climbing and boulder climbing abroad and when she came home to the UAE, she recognized that this sport wasn’t very popular or understood there. That didn’t stop her from pursuing her deep interest. Sara is paving the way for herself by exploring the natural outdoor climbing potential throughout her own country. With an avid bouldering partner and skill at mapping new terrain for climbing potential, Sara is literally putting outdoor climbing on the map in the UAE.

There were plenty of reasons for Sara not to do this. She is fortunate to have the resources and opportunity to travel to areas of the world where the climbing community has forged a well-beaten path. However, Sara is passionate about climbing in her country and continues to show up for her desires, being who she is and inspiring others along the way.

Sara may inspire you to think about what your adventure your community lacks and how you could be at the forefront of the exploration.

Train yourself to overcome your fears

One of the amazing characteristics of this explorer is the way she talks about her fear of heights. Sara was so interested in climbing and felt so empowered by it, that it was worth it to her to continue climbing even though she was terrified of heights.

Sara jokes that her climbing buddies all know when she’s gotten in her head about heights when she hesitates or falters in her climbing process. Sara shared that she actively trains her mind to continue practising climbing in spite of the fear. She takes the time and the energy to grow beyond this obstacle in the name of something she really loves.

This is really the magic of Sara’s story in so many ways. She has let her love for climbing lead her forward through all kinds of potential deterrents and setbacks. What a fantastic reminder to remember your passion when fears set in!

Culture is malleable

Early on Sara realised that the Emirati people are simply not aware of or educated about climbing. Sara tells a beautiful story of encountering a local Emirati man in the Emirate of Ras Al Khaimah, a part of the UAE with numerous climbing opportunities. On this day, she was climbing near a wadi (a riverbed), which is often a place where local families will have picnics when the weather is nice. She found herself in conversation with a local man who was stunned by her perfect, local sounding Arabic. He couldn’t process, at first, the idea that this sporty rock climbing woman in a tank top was Emirati.

Sara told him about rock climbing and what a great place this location was for that. They later shared a meal and broadened each other’s perspectives. At that moment, Sara made her mark on the evolving culture of the UAE. That man will now have a new way of thinking about local women, what they do and how they live. While it won’t change everything, this was an important introduction to unexpected ways of being.

By doing what you love, you can change the culture of your home. Be an example, get out there and courageously share what your passion.

Appreciate the natural beauty in your own backyard

With a deep appreciation for her country and her people, Sara puts great emphasis on the fact that she wants to open up bouldering and climbing opportunities in the UAE in a way that will include local people.

The love for her native land was audible in her voice when she implored listeners to “Stay here” when seeking climbing opportunities rather than travel outside of the country. In Sara’s mission, there is a real ambition to develop the mindset of the locals and the expats in the UAE to recognize the natural resources available within the country and use them sustainably for health, fitness and recreation.

Your truth can positively influence others

As a highly educated, public woman, Sara is unavoidably going to stand out as a role model. She dresses differently than traditional local women and is involved in an outdoor sport that is not only very new to the UAE but is also somewhat contrary to local culture.

Sara is honest about how she wants to live and her love for climbing - the healthy eating lifestyle, the physical and mental challenge - all sets her apart as someone who can uplift other women who want to step outside of the boundaries of their culture.

Some may call Sara’s mission a battle—an act of feminism and cultural evolution. But the way Sara comes across brings ease and joy that will surely reach her people and lead them forward.

Sara advises anyone who wants to get into the climbing scene to educate themselves by researching online. She advises that top of the line equipment is not necessary to get started. The perfect conditions and perfect preparedness can be an excuse not to begin. The most important thing is to start, as Sara says, “Go outside. Just do it. You will love it”


Listen to Sara on the Tough Girl Podcast


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Carol Lawrence
Carol Lawrence

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Quintan Barnes
Quintan Barnes

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