Zana Nachawati: Choosing Between My Faith and the Sport Was Never An Option For Me
Written by Tim Spriggs on May 9, 2018
What’s your name and where are you from?
My name is Zana Nachawati. I am of Lebanese and Syrian descent – but a full blooded Texan.
When and why did you start training?
I started training in June of 2014. I was looking for something to do to get in better shape. I wasn’t quite ready to try a jiujitsu class. So I joined the kickboxing program at the academy. After several weeks of encouragement, my coach convinced me to try a jiujitsu class. I was immediately hooked, and I’ve never looked back.
Had you done other sports before?
I played tennis in high school for about 3 years
When people see you on the mat, they notice what you’re wearing. Can you explain to people who have no idea, what exactly you’re wearing, it’s cultural significance, and what it means to you?
I am Muslim and wear the Hijab. Wearing it is religious obligation for women. When I started training I had to quickly find a cover strong enough to withstand the physicality of training and competing on the mats but also light enough as to not be cumbersome or hindering that allowed me to do what I loved and still maintain the traditions of being a Muslim that wears the hijab. After lots of research with subsequent trial and error, I was able to develope my own custom design. Which is what I currently wear to actively train and compete in.
Choosing between my faith and the sport was never an option for me. In my mind the only choice was to find a way for both to be displayed proudly as part of my identity as an athlete.
What was it like figuring out the best covering? Any interesting stories about the process? How sturdy is the covering you use?
It was going down the path that none knew much about. I felt like I was creating the path on my own as I explored other options to see if there were females in other sports that had the same issues and I ran across Elham Seyed Javad of the Canadian company ResportOn that designed a hood for Muslim women to wear while playing sports.
I ordered it, however, it was not strong enough to withstand someone trying to guillotine me. So I had to make my own adjustments and improvements to meet the needs of a high intensity and contact sport like jiujitsu.
Just like everything else evolves, my design and tweaks adjusted to the needs of the sport based on my own training and competition experiences. It was a challenge, and my own project that I was able to work on each day with training. There was always something new to take into consideration. The best part was not having to worry about “Jits Hair” post training/competition that most women deal with. So it has its perks for sure! With my current piece I have participated in several ibjjf tournaments this year, including The Ibjjf Pan American Championship, where I proudly walked away as the first Hijabi with a 2018 Pan-Ams Silver Medal.
Do you want to eventually sell your design?
That is all still pending. But definitely keep an eye out for me in the future!
What’s your goal in jiujitsu? Do you want to open the door for other women like you?
Of course. I recently attended and competed at the 2018 Atlanta Spring open this past weekend. I lost my first match that day, I was devastated with my performance, but looking at the bigger picture, I made a positive impact there and I was noticed. I walked away knowing I made a difference there. Before I went to weigh in, another female competitor approached me and asked if she could take a picture with me. She said she wanted to show it to her Muslim friend who wears the hijab. To encourage her and show her that she too can compete the way I do. I instantly said to her “Of course! This is exactly why I am doing what I am doing! Even though I have a fear of competing.”
What’s next for you? Any upcoming competitions or projects?
With Ramadan coming up, I will focus on maintaining my strength in the gym, and of course continue to train on the mats as I gear up to head out immediately after it’s done for my training camp in San Diego at Atos Headquarters in preparation for Masters Worlds and having my shot at being the first Hijabi to win from the state of Texas, and possibly the USA.
I currently have a funding campaign open that allows others to support and be a part of making history with me in pursuit of this masters world title.
It’s on a website called launchgood.com
Which is a global crowdfunding platform to support Muslims launching good all across the world by helping them raise funds for their campaigns.
Is there anything else that you want to tell the BJJ goons of the world reading this?
You only have this one life to do good and make a difference in the world as you chase after your dreams and passions, you never know who you may run into that you inspire along the way. Stay humble and stay hungry my friends!