Watch Nadia Nadim score a goal, and she’ll sprint over to the corner flag and karate kick it down. Ask her tell you a Chuck Norris joke, and she’ll laugh before she gets to the punch line. Play any card game, and her facial expression will give away the quality of her hand. Nadia is as real as they get.
As a Muslim fleeing the Taliban to Denmark, Nadia grew up with incessant demands on how to act and live her life. She wasn’t supposed to wear shorts, play soccer, or run around with the boys. But Nadia never subscribed to these ideals. She knew in her heart what she wanted to do. And the moment she dribbled a soccer ball, it was love at first touch.
At a refuge camp in Denmark, 12 year-old Nadia ventured over to a nearby field and watched the local teams train. One day, she went up to the girls’ coach and asked if she could join the team. He agreed, and from there her career took off.
Today, Nadia’s enthusiasm for the game matches that of her childhood self; the girl who spent every spare hour playing pick-up with friends. She plays with fire. Doubt her, and the flame only gets bigger. If people tell her to act differently, it reversely encourages her to be even truer to herself, and no one else.
Although, an innate passion influenced Nadia’s soccer career, she is aware of the power she holds to give other refugees hope of a brighter future. Nadia’s drive to help others extends beyond the soccer field, as she is currently studying to become a reconstructive plastic surgeon. She plans on opening up her own clinic, owning a big home, and helping thousands. That’s not Nadia being cocky or arrogant, that’s Nadia Nadim being Nadia Nadim.
Ask her to tell you a Chuck Norris joke, and you’ll see what I mean.
Nadia is an Arrow Liver.
Name: Nadia Nadim
Hometown: Aarhus, Denmark
Occupation: professional soccer player, future reconstructive plastic surgeon
Years at profession: 16 years playing, 10 years professionally
What was your first thought when you woke up this morning?
I woke up later than I usually do around 8. I pray sometimes, especially in the morning. So I thought, should I go pray or should I go to the pool? I was having this dilemma. I was like if I go to the pool it might be too late for my prayers. As Muslims you have to pray 5 times a day, but I never want to force myself to pray. I want to be real and pray when it comes from the heart.
So I thought, if I pray I’m forcing myself to be fake and God’s going to know. So I did not pray. I went to the pool. So, I was like he’ll understand, he loves me.
What is your morning routine?
Here is a lot different than at home. I have more time than usual. I’ll wake up really early around 6 or 7. Then I go to the gym, do my exercises that I have to do for my hamstring. Sometimes I will go in the pool or jacuzzi. Then I come back and make breakfast. I always have scrambled eggs with veggies.
Sometimes I pray, but only when it comes from the heart.
What do your prayers entail?
There’s a special routine. You have to wash yourself before you pray. I have to take a shower, I need to be clean. I lay out my prayer carpet, and make sure it’s pointing towards Mecca. Then I bow and I pray.
I believe in God deeply. I feel like as a med. student people say “oh no, you can’t believe in God because you believe in science.” I feel really strongly about God and something powerful after being in med. school. Because life couldn’t possibly be happening without some higher power.
What is the best advice you’ve ever been given?
So I feel like when I was young people always told me, “don’t do it the way you want to do it”, but I never listened, and it’s been working for me somehow. My assistant coach from Fortuna, she’s American, she is the best. She would say “ Nadia, yes do you.” She was the only person who told me “You do you.” She told me to believe in myself. That was cool to have someone to tell me to do it, even if other people told me not to.
Have you always had this strong belief in yourself?
Ya. It wasn’t from my mom. She wasn’t into sports. She didn’t even know what was going on, she was so busy trying to feed us and take care of us. I felt like the other people around me wanted me to be something else. A lot of times it wasn’t easy, but I never wanted to bow down.
Who is your definition of successful?
I think there are many ways to get success. The people I look up to are the ones who stay true to themselves while achieving something. You can achieve a lot of things, but if you are losing yourself along the way, that would suck. I would hate that. I don’t want that to happen to me.
They just made a Danish documentary on me, and I know on television and interviews they want you to be a certain way and say a certain thing. I don’t want to do that. I want people to know who I am. Because then I’m not changing, you know?
Why do you do what you do?
Because I love soccer. It makes me happy. When I am playing everything else disappears. It’s me and the ball and I’m like daaa daaa daaaa [she’s smiling with her thumbs up]. When I’m studying for my exams or really stressed out, I get to train and forget all of it. I get to be in my own world. It’s hard to get those feelings from other places. When I score…I haven’t done drugs, but it’s almost like you are on drugs. You’re so high up, its crazy. It makes me happy.
How are you different than the average?
I’m different by being super honest. I’m myself. I’m happy 98% of the time. The 2% I’m not, you will see. My approach for life is that there is so much worse happening than what is happening to me right now. No matter what happens, I get over it. Sometimes it sucks. but it is the way I feel, you know? Maybe because of the stuff I went through when I was younger, I have this mindset. I know my life is short and anything can happen at anytime so I might as well enjoy it.
Why do you where those colorful headbands?
I hate to look like anyone else, I always want to buy things that other people don’t have. I started wearing headbands when I was really young, I just liked it. I really quickly started making my own. I used to take my underwear and cut of the colorful elastic band off of it. My teammates would say “that’s so cool where did you get it?” I would say “ya, you don’t want to know…haha.” When I started getting sponsorships they wanted me to wear their brand. I was like, I don’t like this and everyone else is wearing them, so I am just going to keep making my own. Now I go on ebay and buy fabric to make them. I wear them because I think I look cool with them, and they help to hold my hair back.
How do you spend your free time?
I love watching movies. That’s the way I relax the most. I watch all kinds of movies. I watch a lot of Bollywood movies. The ending is always so happy. I love that. I’m a big Star Wars fan because it was the first movie I saw at the cinema movie house. I was 13 or 14, and one of my closest friends was working in this little cinema. After school, I used to help her clean the theaters so I could get free popcorn. And one time we got to see the Star Wars movie. After that, I was hyped up. I also like to hangout with my friends. The ones who know me really well and I can relax
What has been your biggest setback?
I really believe in faith and destiny in all of this stuff. That’s why I always maintain this positive approach. I know it’s meant to be somehow. Maybe thats how my brain works with coping through stuff. But I believe it 100%. That’s why it’s hard for me to say “this has been my setback.”
What is your most rewarding accomplishment?
In 2006, my mom moved to a bigger city. and there were a lot of foreigners there. We used to live in this kind of ghetto area. It was my favorite place of all time because people were always playing in the streets. I used to look out at the kitchen window and if someone was down there I would run out and play with them. There were no other girls playing.
There was a lot of crime in this area. My friends and I were like, we should start a club to get these kids into soccer. We started with 7 players. and a year and half later we had 217 people. Some of these kids were getting into trouble, but with us, they were behaving with respect. The club was called Athletic South.
My friend and I tried to fundraise. During this time, I was getting into the national team, so the club was getting recognition and the city was suddenly trying to help us. We were interviewed on tv, and random people would call me and say we will donate 10,000 kroner. We got cones, balls, jerseys, and everything. We raised enough money to take them to the Lemona Cup tournament in Italy. And so we took them. And they killed everyone. When we came back to the street, there were so many parents, vans and a camera team. We were like this is so sick! We suddenly started having a girls team. And these girls were from moms, who used to be against me and didn’t want their kids playing soccer.
One day there was this little Somali girl playing with the guys on the streets. It was so freaking sick.
We changed people’s view by just showing what soccer can do. You can change so much if you use sports the right way. These parents were seeing that it’s healthy for their kids. That their kids can achieve something and feel good about themselves.
I had to stop eventually because it grew so big and I couldn’t maintain it being away with the national team.
100% if I had time, I’d do it again. I loved it. I loved those kids. That was the achievement I am proudest of. We managed to change peoples views. It doesn’t take a lot to change stuff. You just have to be willing and put energy into it.
What do you wish you knew as a kid?
I wish I knew that my life would turn out this way so I could tell my mom so she wouldn’t be so worried all the time. My mom used to worry a lot obviously, it was hard for her. She was a single mom and doing a lot. I didn’t know what to say. I wish I could say, “don’t worry dude.”
I always knew no matter what, that things are going to work out. Even now, I’m far away from where I want to be, I think I’m on the right path. I know everything will work out.
What’s your dream meal?
I love my mom’s food. My dream meal is something she would make. We have this Afghan dish called qobalee its basically rice, raisins, carrots, meat, and nuts. It sounds weird, but it tastes so freaking good. It’s funny because I travel with my national team and eat out a lot but I always feel like my mom’s food is so much better. l’ll never complain about food though. I’ll eat everything as long as there’s not a lot of chili in it. Otherwise, I’m grateful for food.
Who are three people you’d ask to dine with you?
Zlatan Ibrahimovic because I freaking love him. Ok this sound weird, but I would love to have one of the presidents from the U.S because I feel like there is so much stuff they know I would say “is this true with this alien’s thing going on?” That kind of stuff. And who else? Probably one of my friends or sisters because…family.
If you could trade lives with one person for an entire day who would it be?
Not with an athlete because I know how that is. Probably a big shot politician just to see how it works.
If you could only keep five possessions what would they be?
Probably my phone, a ball, my credit card, my iPad cause I have all my books there, and I don’t know the last one. I’m not very attached to stuff.
What skill would you like to learn and why?
I would love to be able to play an instrument for real. I hate the fact that I used to play the flute and could read notes. I don’t know why I didn’t continue with something else. Guitar would be kinda cool. I would be like “let me play a song for you guys.” Can’t you see me doing that?
What is your favorite mobile app?
Snapchat. I use it a lot. That’s how I communicate. I also use WhatsApp a lot with my family.