Interview with Mishka Murad: Pakistan’s National Champion

Mishka Murad, first Pakistani woman to qualify for the CrossFit Games.
Mishka Murad, first Pakistani woman to qualify for the CrossFit Games.

The 2019 CrossFit Games will be different than any other year. When Greg Glassman announced the Games would invite the National Champion from each country with an affiliate, many questioned why he would do that.

In the months since, it looks like CrossFit’s format change is working. The Games are now truly an international spectacle with athletes from all over the world. One of those athletes is Mishka Murad.

Mishka Murad is the National Champion of Pakistan. Murad finished 30,197th in the world during the Open, but 1st among Pakistani women. Murad was born in Pakistan and has lived in many places around the world. She currently lives here in the United States while working towards a PhD.

We caught up with Murad to learn about her Pakistani heritage, how she got into CrossFit and what she is looking forward to while competing in Madison.

The Barbell Spin (TBBS): You grew up in Karachi, Pakistan. Can you describe what it was like growing up in Pakistan as a woman? Where have you lived throughout your life? When did you settle in the United States?

Mishka Murad (MM): I wouldn’t say I have “settled” in the US. I am studying here and enrolled in a doctoral degree program. My hope is to graduate with a PhD in Education. Looking back, I think life in Karachi was rough, but when it’s the only life you know…it’s the only life you know. I did not grow up playing sports. I sat on the sidelines while my male friends did that. I was encouraged to read more and write more, things you can do indoors..which keeps you safer. I was also a debater and public speaker for many years (and very good at it).

But now, having lived, studied and worked in Pakistan, the US, Thailand, Mexico, the UK and Ireland, I really don’t think life is ever easy for women. In the United States, you have to factor in race and ethnicity, which further complicates things. But quite frankly, I’ve dealt with sexual harassment in each of these countries. And I’ve had people doubting me in each of these countries too. I’ve also been fortunate enough to call these countries ‘home’, because at some point, each of them have offered me many positive things that I lived and learned from.

TBBS: This is the 3rd year you have competed in the CrossFit Open. How were you introduced to CrossFit?

MM: You’ve done your research! I started CrossFit when I moved to Guadalajara, Mexico to work. I had no friends, I had never been to Mexico and I didn’t speak Spanish. I wanted a place I would see the same faces (and therefore likely start friendships), and I wanted to learn Spanish! I am proud to say my gym Spanish is still better than my regular Spanish! Some of my very first friends were found at Distrito CF (qué onda?!) in Guadalajara, and they continue to be people I talk to and miss, and have no doubt I will see again. They’re also rooting for me, more than some of my friends in the US!

TBBS: Were there any female CrossFitters you looked up to when you started CrossFit?

MM: When I started CrossFit, I knew very little about the Elite athletes. I didn’t start it because I idolized anyone. I started it because I love fitness & wanted to push myself (having already done the boot camps and been certified as a personal trainer and TRX Master Instructor). Even now, I have mad respect for what these athletes do & their daily grind (& even more if they’re working & studying all at once, because I know how hard that is to balance), but looking up to someone, requires a connection of sorts. I’ve never been able to have that.

How many athletes spent their summers lying on the cold tiled floors of their homes because there was no electricity/power for hours on end? How many of them were told women should stick to cooking & cleaning? How many of them were restricted by the lack of life opportunities? For the FIRST time, I get to MEET people like that at the Games this year, because FINALLY those people, who didn’t grow up with CF boxes/gyms or could even afford it, get to be there. So maybe now, I will have people to look up to – people who have persevered despite it all.

TBBS: After becoming the National Champion of Pakistan, you created a post on Instagram sharing how you were raised to “speak less loudly, not want so much, etc.” How does it feel to accomplish something that might have felt impossible growing up?

MM: I think it felt impossible until about two weeks before! The last two years I have had to scale workouts, so just being able to do them RX meant things had changed for me in terms of strength & capacity and that alone was a nice feeling. However, I have no chip on my shoulder. I know there are people faster than me, stronger than me… But, I also know, I earned this. I busted my ass for years, both in class and pursuing individualized programming & dialing my nutrition in. I think how far I come is testament to luck & hard work are required for success. I think I’d just like to show up at the CF Games and be kind, and funny and myself, and represent Pakistani’s as something other than the monsters they’re made out to be.

TBBS: Do you still have friends or family in Pakistan? If so, what do they think of you qualifying for the Games?

MM: I have lived in several countries, so my friends are all over the world. I think some of them are delighted for me, and others ascribe by gender and cultural norms and may think weightlifting is a little unnecessary and “over the top.” My family does not care for CrossFit. They see it as causing injury +and not doing much good. My Brothers-in-law are perhaps more into my journey than my own sisters. But I never started my journey for my family, it’s always been to step outside of my comfort zone, and because I have had an itch to go against what is expected of me. In that way, I am my father’s daughter -even if he does not realize it.

TBBS: How do you think the inclusion of more athletes from around the world will change CrossFit and the CrossFit Games?

MM: I don’t think it matters. The elite athletes will still dominate, and prove their worth as they always do. I think it may be more work for the judges and volunteers (the logistics!) But frankly, I think now the title of “fittest in the world” makes MUCH more sense. Because (some) of the world is actually being represented. Plus, it is wonderful that Greg Glassman realized it’s never been a level playing field. Plus, despite the inclusion, I am doubtful everyone can afford and/or will get a travel visa to attend. Which once again showcases the injustices people don’t necessarily think of.

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🇵🇰🇵🇰FIRST PAKISTANI AT THE CROSSFIT GAMES🇵🇰🇵🇰 . . . . It hasn’t quite sunk in yet. But the fact that I get to represent Pakistan for the first time is pretty epic. I think back to middle school when I was forced to sit on the sidelines because it was “immodest” for girls to be playing sports. I remember wanting to learn tennis, and wanting to be a professional tennis player and being told, but “you’ll have to wear a skirt, so that’s not a realistic goal.” I remember being told I should learn to laugh less loudly, speak less loudly, have fewer opinions, not want so much, and not have so much passion… . . . I may be eliminated day 1, event 1, but this invitation is proof that you don’t need to be anything other than yourself. It’s also, quite frankly, my middle finger to all those people who told me to be LESS than what I am, what I was always destined to be. . . . MAY THE WOMEN IN YOUR LIFE ALWAYS BE MORE THAN YOU CAN HANDLE. So you can RISE UP and meet them at THE F***ING TOP. . . . This one is for you, Ma. I know you’re looking over me. And I know you’re ecstatic for me♥️ . . So many thank yous to come🌼 @crossfitgames

A post shared by MiSHKA MURAD (@mikkpiphany) on

TBBS: If you could pick the perfect event for you at the CrossFit Games, what would it be?

MM: A 12 minute AMRAP of burpees and writing academic articles at the same time. I think I could dominate that one!

TBBS: What are your goals for the Games?

MM: TO HAVE THE TIME OF MY LIFE. Let’s be real, I’m not there for a long time, but I am there for a good time!

TBBS: If there was a message you would like to share with CrossFitters around the world, what would it be?

MM: As I mentioned earlier – success is hard work & luck combined. We always hear people saying hard work is all it takes. But CrossFit is a privilege for many of us, and the fact that you have access to a box, the financial means, and the physical capacity & ability is luck – you could have been born anywhere and in any condition, under any set of rules that predetermines how successful you may be in the goals you set for yourself.

To my knowledge, there were no women in the open from Afghanistan – should we assume that these women don’t work hard enough? or that they are prohibited from sharing spaces with men, so can’t find spaces to work out (if they had the means and time and everything else). Please quit with this hard work shit, and realize we aren’t all equal. We don’t all have the same life opportunities. We can only ever make the BEST OF WHAT WE HAVE. and WHAT WE HAVE VARIES.

Maybe I’m different because I am third world (and proud), maybe I am different because I’m athletically average and I do CrossFit and I AM NOT A CROSSFITTER (where this is the only hat I wear). But, really, I think we need to be more understanding of where people are coming from, what they had and have access to, and not chalk it up to ONLY how hard they try.

Because some of us work hard daily, and that hard work comes in just existing & living as people of color, as third world individuals, as individuals fighting gender stereotypes and cultural stigmas. Does anyone even see that hard work? No one’s saying training hard and eating well doesn’t pay off, but we don’t all come from places where we can afford programming & the best food. Even though I have been fortunate enough, I’m aware of my privilege. I think it’s time we at least acknowledged the privilege behind CrossFit, were appreciative, empathetic, and humbled.

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