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Houda Loukili: A Role model for All

About the Episode

In collaboration with Nike.

Houda Loukili is a champion in and out of the boxing ring. As a teen, she won the Dutch Youth Championship in kickboxing while proudly wearing her hijab. She continues to coach and inspire athletes everywhere.

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Fifteen-year-old Houda Loukili lunged and stretched in the kickboxing gym, warming up for the big event. Her bare feet shuffled against the canvas as she sized up her opponent. Smiling wide even with a mouth guard protecting her teeth, she couldn’t wait to show everyone her fierce jabs and uppercuts. 

Before the first bell rang, she readjusted her hijab one more time. She really hoped it didn’t slip as she bobbed and weaved. Houda had started wearing a hijab a year before. It made her feel strong in her faith and more herself than ever. 

But could people accept the idea of a kickboxer wearing a hijab? Could Houda become a champion even though other fighters didn’t look like her? And would the sports tape that she’d stuck on a skull cap and pulled over her head actually keep her hijab in place for this important match?

Born in the Netherlands in 1989, Houda grew up with five siblings in a rural area. As a child, she learned how to swim and tried both judo and karate. But the one thing she never imagined herself trying was a hijab. Her mother wore one but her older sister didn’t. No athletes did. And one thing everyone knew for sure: Houda was an athlete. 

As a young girl, Houda used to play with her friends in the football field or go to football games with her father. She especially loved watching Bruce Lee movies with her brother. Bam! Smack! Whirl! “What moves!” Houda exclaimed, trying them out for herself.

Houda’s parents were very supportive of her. In fact, it was her father who rode 11-year-old Houda on the back of his bicycle to the kickboxing gym. He wanted to make sure all his daughters knew self defense. 

When Houda walked in for the first time, she didn’t know what hit her — she’d never smelled so many people sweating at once! She was the only girl in the gym, surrounded by older boys and even men, but once she put on boxing gloves and started learning techniques, everything else faded away. She loved it there! Her coach never treated her differently because she was a girl or because she was a Muslim. He gave her the same training and opportunities as his most experienced boxers. He never asked anything less from her. In his eyes, she was a champion!

The more she was supported, the more confident Houda felt. Houda couldn’t get enough of kickboxing. Soon she was training six days a week! And when she wasn’t at the gym, she practiced her moves as she walked or stood in line at the bakery. Her body felt strong, her mind sharp.

Around this time, Houda went to her regional mosque to learn more about her religion. She felt so connected to this community and grateful for the ways it gave her a sense of belonging and spirituality. This is when Houda decided that a hijab just might suit her after all.

The first time Houda wore a hijab in the boxing ring, a lot of heads turned. Some of her friends from the gym looked at her like she was an entirely different person now. But really, Houda had never felt more like herself!

And that sports tape and skull cap served her well — with her hijab secure on her head, she danced around the ring and won match after match, even taking home the championship title! Now everyone knew that the girl with the big smile was the best youth kickboxer in the whole country! Beaming out at the crowd, Houda knew the path she wanted to take in life. 

She went to a sports college, and then a university for sports management and applied science. She continued to train, compete, and even coach aspiring kickboxers and youngsters. Everything was lining up for Houda to make a career as a professional kickboxer. Until one day, when she was twenty-one years old, Houda was in a serious car accident. 

Suddenly, all of her plans had to be put on hold while she recovered. Houda was injured pretty badly, and no one knew what would happen to the champion. She delayed her graduation so she could let her body rest, hoping that in time she’d be able to get back in the ring. But after many hard discussions with her doctors, she realized she had to do what she feared most — hang up her boxing gloves. She wouldn’t be able to compete as a kickboxer anymore! 

Houda spent her days wondering why this had happened to her, how she could feel like herself without kickboxing. But wait a second! Houda didn’t only have to focus on what was no longer possible, she could focus on the things that were possible, with the body she had. 

Houda just had to think creatively. One plan hadn’t worked out but she could make a new plan. She could still train other people. She could still be a role model. She could still make sure that hijabs were accepted in the ring.

So that’s exactly what she did.

As Houda said, “I’m not only a fighter in the ring — if I want something, I will go after it and achieve it.”

Now 32 years old, Houda continues to train and encourage athletes. She also advocates for people who want to strengthen their physical and spiritual selves at the same time. In fact, she even helped create a “Made to Play Hijab Product Playbook” with Nike to help better recruit and retain players who choose to wear hijabs. And with her coaching, she is making sure that the next generation of girls are supported in their bodies, minds, and spirits.

Houda doesn’t need to throw a roundhouse kick or even put on her gloves to channel her strength any more. She is a rebel in the way she leads, loves, and embraces all that life has given her.