‘Just step on to the Platform and we will take care of you.’
Two weeks ago, I had the pleasure of meeting one of the U.A.E’s leading Emirati fitness entrepreneurs. Shaikha Al Qassemi, better known as Kiki For Crossfit is an inspirer, motivator and influencer packaged into one strong and dedicated girl. Shaikha is hell-bent in trying to inculcate the characteristics and welfare CrossFit brings to the community and further its development. The young entrepreneur has accomplished her dreams through her latest project: Platform. We sat down and chatted about her past, present and future. It is with great pleasure that I present to you the life and times of: Shaikha Al Qassemi.
Kiki For CrossFit
‘I’m just a human being trying to find her way in this world. I’m like everybody else and everyone is like me. If anyone is trying to relate then just look at yourself.’
‘I’m 28 years old. I have a degree in PR and advertising in Zayed University. I always wanted to be a lawyer but I didn’t have that option back then. I initially started off with accounting because it was my highest grade in school and my dad thought if it is your highest grade then do it, even though I hated it. I did that for 2 semesters and then got tired of it all and left. I left University of Sharjah at the time because I knew I was capable of something more and better things were yet to come. I was more capable than my exam results placed me. From there I moved to Zayed University, wanting to study psychology but the course was sparse and it had sub-courses that I had already completed. Instead I picked up PR and advertising. My degree choices stemmed from my interest in psychology and law. I tend to watch a lot of law shows and it inspired me to to study business law but the complicated process of moving, so I just stuck with PR. My blogging and Instagram has really benefited from my degree.
[I believe] everything happened for a reason and for that here I am today. I’ve become a Red Bull athlete, LuluLemon Ambassador and gym owner so it’s really worked out well.’
Advertising and PR has become an everyday action. Social media is now the tool of choice to push our brands out there in a very cost effective manner. A business can base its marketing on social media alone and become a success. Good to know that my marketing degree holds some value.
‘When I was young I wasn’t very active. I played a lot with the boys outside but I wasn’t actually into sports [as such]. I wasn’t part of a team or trained every day. Back then, the people I was surrounded by would tell me not to play outside or get near the bikes and to just sit inside and play with dolls and makeup. It was the stereotypical way a young girl should spend her time. I needed an outlet and I actually choreographed dances to N-SYNC, Backstreet Boys and Spice Girls. I used to do this with my cousins and we spent 2 hours a day and that was when we started to become more active, doing everything from rehearsals to shows. I was the middle cousin, older cousins did their thing and the younger ones went off on their own way. After that, I wasn’t active in high school but I did bodybuilding from the age of 15. I was bumped up a grade so everything went well. When I started university, I wanted to get fit and look a certain way. [Inevitably] I was getting very skinny and not eating so much and doing a lot of cardio. I followed a very high rep body building routine. I was very cautious of how I looked and wanted to become the stereotypical way a girl should look. When I started university, a lot of things changed; business, family, friends. It was also when I helped my sister start her company; SugarBox. I moved out of the dessert scene because I wasn’t really passionate about it. I got into food, fashion, hair and makeup, where I was able to work with different people on 2-3 fashion shows. Lot of people ask me: “How do you put on makeup so perfectly?”
WELL. No one believes me when I tell them I was a makeup artist. Turns out, I didn’t like that either; it didn’t give me the drive and I wasn’t 100% in.’
What felt like a brief moment, the conversation was in full swing. I was fascinated by her infectious energy and passion during her narration. From an angel investor to makeup artist, she’s tried her hand at multiple careers at both ends of the spectrum.
‘I took a year off to find myself and see what I wanted to do. I scouted PR agencies here in Dubai and asked a few people who were working there how it was. The timings alone put me off; 8AM to 12AM was an immediate turn off. I didn’t want to be in front of a desk and work long hours every single day. That’s the day I decided to step away from away PR and advertising. I had to sit down and reflect on who I truly was. In 2013, my mother insisted on me finding a job. I disliked the idea of working for someone. Reluctantly, I applied for a few jobs but only one company got back to me. I accepted the job offer but the biggest issue was its location; Jabel Ali. I would wake up at 4:30 AM every day and drive from Sharjah to Jabel Ali in the traffic and it was a headache. I felt I could conduct myself in a more productive manner and that was through training.’
‘I signed up for Fitness First. I had mixture of cardio, weights and a swimming pool so it was perfect. I started off with a personal trainer and as much as I was progressing, I wasn’t very happy and I started developing programs for myself and in hindsight I was playing around with CrossFit without knowing it. I would do strength training and finish off with some high intensity cardio. Using skip ropes and rowing machines for about 45-50 minutes. I was in my best shape at the time weighing in at 52 KGs and 12% body fat. When I was in university, I was 72 KGs and 30% body fat so this was a drastic change. It certainly helped a lot but again I wasn’t happy because how I looked and felt. I was unhappy with how skinny my legs were, everything just didn’t sit well. One of my friends recommended CrossFit and it had me researching. At first, all the results were negative (injury prone, dangerous) but after I started exploring it more and watched videos of these women train, I thought to myself that if I can train 5-6 times a week like them then I can make my own dream come true!’
To truly appreciate and understand where one’s true passion lies, you must experience every rise and every fall. Kiki’s journey has taken her everywhere; obstacles have been thrown in her path and the way she handled them is commendable. Sheer perseverance and persistence has pushed Kiki through the hardest of times and I’m sure she wouldn’t change a moment of her journey because it represents the battle scars that have molded her into a stronger and smarter woman.
‘I started chasing the dream. I trained once a day after work at circuit training class I found on the way back to Sharjah. I knew the coaches the class, so joining them was a no-brainer. I’d do 30-45 minutes of circuits which eventually led me to the realization that I was strong but I wasn’t fit. With all the cardio that I did, I still wasn’t as fit as I hoped to be. At this point I had seriously taken up CrossFit classes and was encouraged to go and compete in different competitions. I placed top 10 in the region but it was still a big achievement in comparison to my initial thoughts of not being capable of doing these things. I gained a lot of confidence because I didn’t know what I was capable of. My back squat was 80-85 KGs at the time and my personal trainer was in awe of my strength.’
‘Looking back, I think I became very strength biased after that. I took up Olympic lifting for 6 months which included; front squat, back squat, clean and snatch – it increased my capacity by 20 KGs! That was the definitely the most painful part of training, the intense volume of training.’
Point of No Return
It was at this point the talented athlete suffered a minor car accident which required her to have surgery on her knee. Kiki emphasized this being a pivotal turning point in both her personal and fitness life; the time between the accident and recovery. It gave her enough time to reflect and really understand her body, mind and soul and what it was capable of achieving.
‘Coming out of surgery, I had so many thoughts racing through my mind. Would I be able to make a come back? Would I be able to live up to the expectations again? This was a major turning point in my life not because of the accident but because of everything between the accident and recovery. If the accident didn’t happen, something else would have. I was meant to go through it and experience those moments. During this time, I decided to see a life coach because of those moments of fear and self-doubt. I feared not achieving what I set my mind to, the fear of failing and not being good enough. My mindset wasn’t self induced rather seeded by the doubt of the company that I kept; beginning to undermine my decisions. My coach and I began working on breaking down the layers to locate the source. Ultimately, after breaking it down, my performances started peaking. I changed my outlook on the way I saw the world. I needed to take a step back and start thinking about my own well-being.
During this transition, I couldn’t do most of the lifts that I loved to do like..squatting, yeah squatting. I had to start filling my time doing something productive. One day, I started thinking about the situation surrounding fitness for local women and came to the conclusion that educating local women on movement and coaching classes was a major need. When women seek coaches and trainers, they tend to look for western trainers due to their semblance of being significantly more qualified.
I really wanted to educate myself so I started reading up on training and nutrition. I’ve taken up 8 CrossFit courses in the past 3 years including sub courses in rowing and running courses that are related but aren’t necessarily a core part of CrossFit. Working with Ian Houghton, a masterful coach who’s completed courses with Nike and hosts talks around the world was an intriguing and educational experience. I’ve tried to expose myself to influencers like him to learn as much as I can to be able educate these women. While I was recovering, I started seeding and implementing my ideas during my coaching sessions at the ladies at the Sharjah Shooting Club; Altitude Gym, where I first experienced coaching for 8 months.’
‘I realized during this time that there was an even bigger gap where there were no CrossFit gyms for ladies that had specific CrossFit coaches that could take them to the next level combined with necessary the nutrition and training. I started by changing the structure of my classes at Altitude and have the stretching sessions longer with the warm up and workouts much shorter to allow for a question and answer session, where the girls could ask any questions they wanted.’
‘In 2014, I decided I wanted to open a gym and did so but unfortunately, soon after I had to close it down but I learnt from that again, picked myself up and here we are at the start of my new love child: Platform.’
Enduring and battling through the mental warfare is an important hurdle in a persons long term development. Kiki has fought through a tremendous number of mental battles with herself and had to overcome the biggest conundrum: fear. Fear has halted moments of genius and passion. It’s in the most terrifying moments where a decision should be made. Why stop before you’ve even started? Just taking that leap of faith can potentially unlock so many avenues. You will never be faulted for trying. Every individual I have spoken to in the past couple of months has taken the decision to get up and do something about their passion and look at where they’ve ended up. I agree, there are examples of people who have failed but that failure shouldn’t define who you really are. Every step not taken is a missed opportunity at greatness.
Several career changes, recovery from injuries and the closure of Kiki’s first gym are experiences that has shaped her future and enabled her to open up a safe haven for like-minded individuals to come in and soak up the atmosphere and get lost in the moment. We will now dive into the inception of Platform and decern her plans to realise her vision and dreams.
Platform – CrossFit. Coffee. Community
‘I had to change the way I was thinking, once you change the way you think, the doors will automatically open for you. It was all related to my family, friends and society. I had to change my circle of friends constantly because I was constantly evolving as a person. The people you are around shape the way you are. I had to let people go because they weren’t willing to understand my way of thinking. The select few people in our lives who understand you will make you a better people.’
‘My vision was to always make Platform to feel like a home when people walk in. A lot of the issues I’ve seen with some coaches in commercial gyms is their reluctance to push people. I think it’s more to do with injury prevention and getting sued but trainers shouldn’t discourage members from pushing past their limitations. I was once told that I shouldn’t squat more than 80 KGs otherwise I’d injure my back. That aggravated me back then. Last year, I deadlifted 140 KGs, so it’s possible. Instead of telling you ‘you can’t do it’ you should be working on progression. As CrossFit coaches we don’t just coach your movement but we coach you mentally. When you join a CrossFit gym, you meet new people, you find coaches who care about your wellbeing and help develop you for the real world.’
‘Why did I choose the people and coaches that I did? I believed these people could bring the ideas and energy that I want in this gym. They could convey my story and shared the same passion I have for my home. I want people to come in and be able to feel comfortable. I want them to forget about their issues and struggles and just lose themselves. The gym is supposed to be a sanctuary to forget about all of the problems going on in our lives and that’s exactly what I want to achieve with Platform. Ideally, I’d love everyone’s first reaction to be to drop their bags and just explore the place and find surprises at every turn.’
‘Platform was inspired from a meeting hosted by Lulu Lemon about visions and goals for the future. My vision for the past year was to open up a CrossFit gym but with the copious amount of CrossFit gyms in the UAE, what could I possibly provide that would be different from everyone else’s? And then it struck me; wellbeing, self-development, self-growth and life coaching are several traits that I wanted to infuse using our gym as the platform. A platform to further your development. That’s how I came up with the name Platform. We don’t want to just concentrate on the physical aspect of health and fitness but we want to teach well-being as a whole. So it was during that meeting that I knew that I wanted to open up this gym and take people through this journey together. The coffee shop is 50% of our concept. Part of my vision to give it a homey feel was giving our coffee shop a large chunk of space with workstations, meeting stations and a swing; to accommodate all types of people, a place where people can spend their time after working out.’
‘Just step on to the Platform and we will take care of you. I named it Platform and I started developing the idea of spaces; a space for people to sit on a carpet or space of their liking to bring their family and friends, to read, train, and work. I want this to be a one-stop hub for everyone. No judgments, it doesn’t matter who you are, you are always welcome.’
‘People have this misconception that our way of training can only be achieved through steroids and our idea of fun is to kill ourselves in every workout. You constantly hear, ‘to train like that I need steroids’, or ‘to look like that I need steroids’ . This mindset and opinion has been indoctrinated in to everyone’s mind and has ruined the true hard work that some individuals have put in. We want to show our athletes and members, it starts with what you believe in. You can do anything you want if you just believe. That is our motto; Believe.’
Excuses are used to try and justify actions. Whether it’s to do with genetics or common misconceptions, there always seems to be a barrier between a person achieving their goals. People want the easy path to success. How can anyone grow, learn and experience life without hard work? Your race or nationality doesn’t affect your ability, hard work will break any barrier and any advantage genetics may provide. Over time you will become better at what you do, if you have the passion, drive and commitment, you will reach your goals.
‘If you put the hard work, blood sweat and tears, you will get there. If you find yourself without support then we will be there for you.’
She’s Playing The Game Right
‘I’ve learnt so much in the past couple of years. My biggest lesson came when I had trained a whole year back at InnerFight and my goal at the time was to make podium. I went through hell and back to reach my goal. Sleepless nights and gassed out lungs, my body just was giving out but I was determined. I was hell-bent on making podium because that was my ultimate goal. Just before the competition begun, I had food poisoning, bad reactions to food and supplements which really reduced my performance levels. Other girls would be gaining momentum and I’d be slowing down. I got 5th place and throughout the weekend, every person would come up to me and question my performance. I eventually just broke down. I put in everything, my heart and soul into that competition and even though I did the best that I could, other people were disappointed.
‘Their lives are completely different to mine, I had so many things going that year, yet all I wanted was to prove that I could make podium, which upon reflection was the wrong reason for me to compete. I didn’t have proper guidance before I met my life coach and educating myself on all aspects of training and fitness. I’ve had so many breakdowns, highs and lows but no one sees that. No one sees the blood, sweat and tears shed, everyone can only see the happy, sweetheart Kiki on Instagram and that’s just scratching the surface. There is so much we need to deal with that people don’t realise.’
Inspired by a course Kiki is taking on miracles. She’s gone from being a very aggressive and defensive person to someone who has realised that she needed to change. Kiki wakes up every morning praying for gratitude and spends a couple minutes thanking God for everything that she’s been blessed with. She believes that people have really neglected this simple act; all we hear now is the negativity and ungratefulness for things that we take for granted. Why didn’t I have this cereal for breakfast or why couldn’t I buy those shoes. Having shoes to wear or food to eat is one of the biggest blessings we receive on a daily basis and we just dismiss it. It could all disappear in an instant. This has a bearing on you as a person and reflects on your personality. These changes allowed her to see the better in people and situations.
‘My life has changed more in the past 2-3 weeks than it has in 20 odd years. I became very defensive of my image and I would call people out for being fake or dishonest with other people. I stopped it because I learnt that people have their own way of doing things. When you clear judgment from everything, the world is a beautiful place. That is what I want people to take away from Platform. You are surrounded by people who are willing to help you and we are in unison. That’s when energies are most powerful when we come together as a community. That is why I speak of CrossFit in the way that I do because that’s what it does. It brings people together and turns individuals into one. I was lost for so many years. When I became part of this community, I was like ‘Wow, is this what movement does?’ I walked into a gym, we started talking and I became part of a family. That’s it? Where have I been for so long?’
‘That is how CrossFit started, it’s not about the games, regionals or the sponsorship, these things do not matter. It’s not their story. It’s the story of the people that walk into a CrossFit gym. They love what they see on TV and want to emulate that. It gives hope to people that think they are incapable of doing anything because they have a disability, illness or defect. Once you give them some light, they shine. It’s the fastest growing sport in the world and that is why I believe it in so much.’
CrossFit is built around the people and not the sport. You get so emotionally invested that you find it difficult to let go. It’s such a fantastic sight to see a group of strangers turn into family in a matter of moments. After experiencing this first hand for the first time, I felt an emotion and drive that is unlike anything I’ve ever felt in any gym that I have trained at.
Kiki is up there as one of the most genuine, passionate and dedicated individuals I’ve ever met. Humble in victory or defeat, she has never given up on her dream; not at the hardships endured or celebrated the mountains conquered. I think her story proves her worth; a girl trying to galvanise a nation drowned in its own plight by allowing people into her home and giving them a chance to come together as one.
I’d encourage every new reader to go check out her socials and keep up with this compelling odyssey.
Kiki’s Socials x Platform Socials
Instagram: @kikiforcrossfit x @platform.vision
YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCc5bjW5rmaHu7o_APij204w