Meet the graduates: Kariman Abuljadayel

Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

In 2012, Saudi Arabia lifted its ban on female athletes competing in the Olympics. At the Rio Games four years later, Kariman Abuljadayel, AMD’17, became the first female sprinter to represent her country—an experience she described as “overwhelming” and “amazing.” Here, the architecture student draws parallels between studying at Northeastern and training for the global stage, noting that both taught her the virtues of patience and persistence.

Abuljadayel’s history-making 100 meter dash earned her headlines in global news outlets, including BBC and The Sun, which described her appearance as a “momentus race for Saudi women.” Though Abuljadayel didn’t ultimately qualify for a final, DailyMail noted that she “won the support of women all over the world” for her competition.

What was it like to compete in the Olympics?

Saudi Arabia’s Kariman Abuljadayel competes in a women’s 100-meter heat during the athletics competitions of the 2016 Summer Olympics at the Olympic stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Friday, Aug. 12, 2016. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

It was unlike anything I’ve ever felt before. It’s one of those things that’s a little hard to describe, but it was overwhelming and really amazing. I feel lucky to be an athlete who got to feel that, because not everyone even makes it to the Olympics.

It’s tense, though, and I felt like everyone was watching me. At the start of my race, I just had to tell myself that whatever happens, happens—I’d done all I could do up to that point. I placed seventh in my heat, but I still ran in the Olympics, and that’s really amazing.

One thing that stood out was the intensity—when you’re training, of course you’re thinking about the bronze, silver, and gold medals, but I was the only one of my friends thinking about that when I was training. At the Olympics, though, you’re among all the people who were also thinking about those medals nonstop. There’s just a different feeling about it.

How did it feel to represent Saudi Arabia as a female athlete on such a global scale, just four years after the country lifted its ban on allowing female athletes to compete?

I didn’t expect the level of positive reaction I received. And it was surreal to be walking among all these different athletes from all these different countries at the Opening Ceremonies, then to look up at the video board and see my own face up there.

Saudi Arabia’s Kariman Abuljadayel after competing in a women’s 100-meter heat during the athletics competitions of the 2016 Summer Olympics at the Olympic stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Friday, Aug. 12, 2016. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

When I got home, my family and friends were ecstatic—there was a lot of celebrating. Growing up, though, I didn’t participate in any athletics—there were no sports for girls until I graduated high school in 2012. At that point, I told my mom that doing a sport was my dream, and competing in the Olympics became my ultimate goal. Because I was about to move to Boston at the time, she told me I had no excuse not to train and achieve that goal. She said, ‘As long as you don’t fail your classes.’

You studied architecture as an undergraduate at Northeastern and plan to return for your master’s degree in the field. What drew you to architecture?

My mom. She’s a writer and a designer, and she designed our house in Saudi Arabia. When I was younger, she would ask me to help, so she’s really the one who introduced me to different design concepts. I remember watching her and thinking, ‘I want to do that, too.’ My mom has been a huge part of my life, a huge support for me through the Olympics, and a huge reason I went into architecture.

05/02/17 – BOSTON, MA. – Kariman Abuljadayel, AMD’17, poses for a portrait at Northeastern University on May 2, 2017. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

And architecture isn’t just creating—it teaches you discipline because there are a lot of deliverables you have to complete for your clients. Architecture has taught me that you have to put in the work; it’s taught me commitment and discipline. It’s a lot like sports in that way: if you want to win, you have to lose first along the way. If you’re going to the Olympics, you’re going to lose a lot first, but you learn from that, learn how to fix it. If I want to be the best architect, I’m going to create a lot of designs that might not be the best at first.

What advice do you have for new students?

If you want to achieve something worth achieving, you have to prepare for the worst. In the end, it will all be worth it, but along the way, you’re going to face some challenges and you have to be ready to learn from them.

You also have to be patient. Before I started training for the Olympics, I wanted everything fast—I wanted to see results immediately. But running—and architecture—don’t work that way. As they say, ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day;’ great things take time, and along the way you have to be willing to wake up with the same enthusiasm that you started with.