GSMP 2015 Site Visits: Batoul Arnaout at the USOCBy Brian Canever October 26, 2015
One week into Batoul Arnaout‘s time at the U.S. Olympic Committee with her mentor, Alicia McConnell, the two women decided to test each others’ skills in a friendly squash match. Batoul, a former member of the Jordanian national squash team, saw Alicia, a seven-time U.S. national and former world junior champion, and had a feeling it was going to be a long afternoon.
“Who won is not important,” Batoul said jokingly. “It was a great experience to play on the same court, even though I had to run all over for the ball.”
Alicia, the director of training sites and community partnerships for the USOC, also laughed as she recalled the memory during the first West Coast Site Visit of the 2015 U.S. Department of State and espnW Global Sports Mentoring Program.
Moving on to more serious topics, Drs. Sarah Hillyer and Ashleigh Huffman, co-directors of the University of Tennessee’s Center for Sport, Peace, & Society, and I, sat down with Batoul and her mentor to discuss their shared passion for their communities and how their free-spiritedness influences their success.
For many years, Batoul worked as a public relations regional manager for LG Electronics in the Middle East. But, during that time, she noticed a sever lack of sufficient sports standards and opportunities throughout her country. So, in 2014, she launched a community-backed initiative called BOOST (“Better Opportunities and Options for Sports Today”).
“Since I was 5 years old, I always dreamed of doing something for sports in Jordan,” Batoul said. “Last year, I saw a chance, so I took it.”
In that regard, Alicia, who was awarded the Woman of Distinction award from the Girls Scouts in 2007 for her community service in Colorado Springs, shares common ground with Batoul. When she moved from New York City to Colorado Springs almost two decades ago, she quickly began volunteering with a number of local organizations.
“No matter where you live, there are underserved populations,” Alicia said. “What’s amazing about volunteering is you get so much more from giving back. If one child finishes high school and goes to college, it can change the future of an entire family. Anything becomes possible.”
Part of what makes Batoul and Alicia so successful is that they’ve always been willing to think outside of the box and be creative; never bending to the pressures or challenges in their way. Batoul, who is also a dedicated cyclist, has been on the road many times as the only woman in large groups of men.
“If you ask any female cyclist what the sport means to them, they will tell you freedom,” Batoul said. “I’ve gotten lots of stares and people telling my mom that I need to stop. But I will never give up on cycling.”
Alicia, who nodded as Batoul finished her statement, knows the feeling of being the only girl in a field of boys. Recounting her own story, she believes that Batoul riding despite society’s pressures has the potential to become a powerful symbol for girls and women in Jordan.
“You’re in the streets of Jordan and the little girls see you on your bicycle, and it inspires them. It shows them, and it shows their mothers, that they can do it too.”
Listen to the Center’s podcast conversation with Batoul and Alicia at the link below