Fayrouz Gadalla, biology major, Fairleigh Dickinson University Metropolitan Campus
By Kenna Caprio
Photographs by Karsten Moran
Staying still — Fayrouz Gadalla doesn’t know the definition. She’s always in extreme motion — surfing, scuba diving, long boarding, kayaking, rafting, skydiving, horseback riding, skiing, skateboarding, jumping on trampolines, riding ATVs — often with her headscarf flying out behind her.
“Each sport has its own reward. For scuba diving, it’s the experience of being underwater. You see fish, jellyfish, turtles, and they’re not interested in you. You immerse yourself in their environment,” says Gadalla.
“With snowboarding and surfing, nothing else matters. It’s just you and the sport. You’re going really fast and it feels like flying. Problems and stress melt away. It’s pure happiness.”
Growing up in New Jersey, she tagged along after her brothers. She watched and learned, playing with them, doing anything they did. Visiting family in Egypt, Gadalla made up her own adventures. She rode horses and camels. Dared her cousins to go inside a broken-down castle. Fished in a lake with just a string and hook. Once, Gadalla untied a boat and took it around the Nile River. She got in trouble for that one. Back home, she begged to do gymnastics. Her parents acquiesced, and have long since encouraged her adventurous side, Gadalla says, recognizing the joy it brings.
Even when pain hits—she’s wiped out long boarding, surfing and snowboarding — she keeps pushing.
“Every time you fall, you’re learning more about the sport, what to do and how to improve,” says Gadalla. “Focus on the sport. Don’t focus on the fear.” Snowboarding is her favorite activity and she’s worked up to doing jumps off ramps. Now she’s teaching herself to do 360 spins and front flips.
Sometimes, people stare or glare, regarding her hijab critically, occasionally asking, “Are you going to wear that?” She is.
“I play the sports I want to play. Nothing really discourages me, even harsh comments,” says Gadalla. “If there’s a uniform, I’m going to modify it. For example, when I went snorkeling, the most conservative wetsuit looked like a leotard with sleeves. So, I added water resistant leggings. Later, in a surf shop, I found a wetsuit that covers my entire body.” Right now, she’s digging the Nike Pro Hijab and how well it stays in place.
Olympic fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad, who took home a bronze at the Rio Games, inspires Gadalla. “It’s amazing to have representation. When you see other hijabi women out there, it’s so encouraging.” She inspires plenty of women, too, after starring in a video for Vogue — on horseback, on a trampoline and on an ATV. “When I’m not studying, I’m going on adventures,” she told the magazine. Women sent her positive messages on Instagram after the video premiered.
“With my actions, I’m normalizing it.” Her clothes and headscarf, she says, are “a reflection of identity and religion. I hope that despite all the propaganda, this shows I’m a symbol for compassion, kindness and positivity in the world. I want my actions to reflect who I am. I’m not shy or timid or oppressed. I’m just a regular college girl.”
Gadalla also throws herself headfirst into academics. The biology major, on a pre-med track, starts classes in the fall 2018 semester at Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine, part of a 3+4 program. She has dreams of starting an orphanage and a hospital in Egypt one day to raise medical care and sanitation standards.
“I don’t think I’ll ever be content with what I’ve achieved. You can always improve,” Gadalla says.