While the international spotlight has been shed on star Egyptian footballer Mohamed Salah (rightfully so, nonetheless,) his fellow compatriot Sarah Essam is also making huge strides in the English Premier League.
Born in Cairo in 1999, Essam became Egypt's first female Premier League footballer in 2017 when she joined Stoke City Ladies, competing among the club's Development Team in the third tier of the league. The striker has since racked a number of awards and achievements, all the while studying civil engineering at Derby University.
Having scored 12 goals in 12 matches, Essam was her team's top scorer this season and thus won her team's Golden Boot award in May. She was also the top scorer at her university's team, helping it earn a league promotion for the BUCS league, the association football league system of British Universities and Colleges Sport.
In recognition of her accomplishments back in 2018, she was granted the "Arab Woman of The Year: Achievement in Sport" award by the London Arab Foundation and was featured among the BBC's "100 most influential women in the world."
So, how does she do it all? StepFeed reached out to Essam to find out:
As a young Egyptian woman seeking a career in football, Essam struggled with societal pressure and discouragement from her family, with her parents claiming she had no future in sports. They instead tried to convince her to focus on her education. However, Essam insisted on pursuing her passion and went on to play with Cairo-based Wadi Degla as well as her country's national team.
"Ever since I was a child, I've always been that rebel kid who likes going on adventures and reaching the impossible, so it's in my personality, even though I know people might give me looks and criticize what I do. This never stops me, it actually gives me a feeling of satisfaction when I do something different," she told StepFeed.
She went on to say that people's opinions are important, yet they are "irrelevant when one wants to achieve something that people think is not doable."
"I never waited for support and never will"
Throughout her journey, Essam relied mostly on herself, defying those who did not believe in her.
"The only source of support that pushed me to achieve so many things, alhamdulillah [thank God], was myself. I used to talk to myself, motivate myself, and apply the law of attraction. I believe the strongest support for a person is themselves. I never waited for support and never will. Faith in God and working hard is my magic," she revealed.
"It's all about adjusting your mentality to what you want and preparing yourself for any obstacles that will stand in the way of reaching your dream."
Not only has she noticed a shift in the attitude of her own family towards her football career, but also in the attitudes of other families in her society, as they have become more open to the idea of women pursuing professional football.
"Great talents, no support" for female athletes in the Arab world
Essam said both Arab and non-Arab fans cheer her on, yet she expects more tangible support from her country. "I would appreciate it if the media outlets express their support with actions too, not only press releases and news," she noted.
Still, Essam considers it a "delightful responsibility" to represent Egypt abroad and to set an example for female Arab athletes.
"We all love our country and nothing feels better than appreciation from your own country, that's why I crave more from Egypt, but at the end of the day I'll keep representing my country."
As for her evaluation of the status of female athletes in Egypt and the Arab world in general, Essam described it as: "Great talents, no support."
She highlighted the need for "good planning" when it comes to women's football in the region, calling upon those responsible to put in their best effort to support female talents and organize high-level leagues with qualified coaches and staff.
It's all about sacrifice and hard work
If you're feeling short on motivation, Essam's words are bound to strike a chord:
"Please believe in yourself and stop making excuses that stop you from doing what you love or dream about. Sacrifices and hard work will pay off at the end. Set your targets and start working for them, always keeping in mind that facing obstacles means you're on the right track. Your goals are not impossible nor too late, just start and the reward will come knocking at your door."