Saudi female rock-climbing instructor hopes to scale Olympic heights

There are many good locations in Saudi Arabia that can, one day, be world-class destinations. Yasmin Gahtani encounters no negative response when she introduces herself as a rock climber.
Updated 24 January 2018

Saudi female rock-climbing instructor hopes to scale Olympic heights

JEDDAH: Yasmin Gahtani, the mother of two who became the first female Saudi certified rock-climbing instructor, now has another dream — to take part in the Tokyo 2020 Games.
She hopes she can raise the Saudi flag and inspire Saudis to participate in the Olympics. “This will make me proud that I was somehow involved in making them rock climbers, especially my own twin sons.”
Gahtani began to go rock climbing five years ago after she felt there was much more to live for than what she was doing.
The extreme sport fanatic says she was always a curious and experimental person, so she decided to get into a sport that would be highly challenging. Although she tried different sports, she found herself in the activity after a friend persuaded her to try climbing rocks – something she fell in love with immediately.
Speaking to Arab News, Gahtani said she started rock climbing five years ago when she decided to change her daily routine life of comfort.
The hardest part at the beginning was to trust herself and what her body could do on the wall. She was always, as she said, “an insecure and self-conscious person.” However, she managed to break out of those feelings and believe in herself, and finally lived the excitement of the adrenaline rush.
Another difficult issue was that climbing was a sport most people around her had never heard of. To tell her friends and family that she was practicing a sport they could only imagine would be for males was also a challenge. However, Gahtani was very grateful and impressed by how much everyone was highly supportive of her passion for a dangerous activity.
After her first dream had come true, Gahtani started thinking of living another — to become an instructor.
“After seeing how many Saudis were getting more and more curious about the sport that I was practicing, I started thinking about becoming a certified rock climbing instructor, to help greenhorns climb safely,” she said.
Last year, the ambitious Gahtani took her Climbing Wall instructor course in Chiacago through the American Mountain Guides Association.
The instructor told Arab News that her parents had spared no efforts to support her from the very beginning. “They have noticed the positive impact that my new hobby had left on me. Therefore, they became more encouraging. My twin boys have also become rock climbers and want to take up this sport professionally one day.”
She encounters no negative response when she introduces herself as a rock climber. “In fact, people are very happy for me, and proud that I found something I have passion for. Saudis are my biggest fans and they really show that to me. I am very lucky and grateful to them.”
She said many Saudi women, especially those in their twenties, are interested in engaging in activities practiced in inhospitable environments. “They are ready to take a challenge to prove to themselves and the people around them that the Saudi woman is strong regardless of the reputation that she is soft and cannot reach high levels.”
Gahtani’s activity seems to be uninterrupted as she still plans to improve her rock climbing skills to become even better at the sport.
“I see myself as having a long journey ahead of me that I will enjoy every second of. My dream also is to see more Saudis, regardless of their gender, take part in this sport. That will teach the youngsters a lot about physical and mental challenges,” she said.
Gahtani pointed out that the General Sports Authority has been keen to support community sports in recent years in Saudi Arabia, and the establishing of a climbing federation is a huge step that is hoped will back both rock climbers and instructors so that this sport becomes more accessible and more visible.
For nearly a year, the certified instructor has been giving climbing courses to a “good enough number” of females. “I am proud of my new climbers for encouraging their friends to try it, too,” she said.
Gahtani said there are many good locations in Saudi Arabia that can, one day, be world-class destinations. “We have so many attractive places in Abha, Al-Ula, and Al-Baha, but we need more work to create more routes on these naturally perfect climbing walls to pave the way for people to climb them. Funded projects need to be considered to make it happen.”

Misk Global Forum: UAE Higher Education Minister aces ‘job interview’

Updated 25 min 5 sec ago

Misk Global Forum: UAE Higher Education Minister aces ‘job interview’

  • ‘You need a core major. Academic background is still important’

RIYADH: The opening session on the second day of the Misk Global Forum began with a brain teaser – how many golf balls can you fit in a school bus? – as part of a job interview, but not just with any applicant.

Dr. Ahmad Belhoul Al-Falasi, the UAE’s Minister of State for Higher Education and Advanced Skills, talked about higher learning and his career in the format of a job interview, conducted by moderator Razan Alayed, an advisor to the Education and Human Resources Council in the UAE.

Al-Falasi said he was surprised that even though he went to very good schools and had a PhD in engineering, he got rejected when applying to many companies because they said he was overqualified. He realized he was underqualified in consulting, so he started to work on that. His learning? “People appreciated the skills I had, not my education.”  

Still, Al-Falasi said it’s important to have a specialization in higher education. “You need a core major. Academic background is still important.”  

To be successful, he said a person needs to be confident and passionate, and that it’s important to have skills of negotiation and articulation.

“I’m not the smartest person,” he said, rather modestly. “If I have to pick one skill, it will be my capacity to adapt.”

Al-Falasi said technology is helping education evolve: “Today with technology, you can have access to the best classes in the world. Data is also important, many say. A lot of technology is built on understanding.”  

At the end of his interview, when Al-Falasi was asked about his salary expectation. Without pause, he said if it’s for a job at Misk, the figure doesn’t matter.

“We all feel very passionate and positive today, especially with what’s happening in Misk,” he said. “All eyes are on Saudi Arabia today.”