Sacrificing To Compete: An Interview With Dina Al-Sabah!

I recently caught up with the highly animated Dina and asked her to share a bit about her life, the sacrifices she has endured in order to compete, her game plan to achieve success, and her feelings on the inaugural Figure Olympia competition.
One of the sports most promising athletes to hit the scene in years is 29 year-old IFBB Pro Figure sensation Dina Al-Sabah. Born February 28, 1974, in Beirut, Lebanon, Dina's father is Kuwaiti and her mother is half Syrian and half Turkish, this diversity has enabled Dina to take bits and pieces from each culture and blend it to form her own unique perspective of the world.

Raised in Egypt, Morocco, Italy and the United Kingdom, this self-described "global nomad," is a natural born athlete who started riding horses at the age of five. During her teen years, Dina was very active competing in equestrian show jumping and as a high school athlete at the American School of Tangier in Morocco, she participated in varsity track and field (100m, 200m 400m and long jump), varsity volleyball and varsity basketball.

I recently caught up with the highly animated Dina and asked her to share a bit about her life, the sacrifices she has endured in order to compete, her game plan to achieve success, and her feelings on the inaugural Figure Olympia competition.

Wilkins: Many athletes start weight training to improve their sports performance. How did you get your start?

Al-Sabah: The first time I ever lifted a weight was in 1991 when I moved to London. Living in a new country and not knowing anyone, I decided that joining a gym would be a fun way to spend time and meet people. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, but it was a start.

In 1994 when I came to the U.S. to study at George Washington University, I joined a Bally Total Fitness Center and took a more active interest in lifting weights and educating myself about weight training

Wilkins: Do you still remember your first competition?

Al-Sabah: In November 1999, I competed as a novice bodybuilder in a NGA show in Roanoke, VA. I was so scared going on stage, but very happy with all the changes I had made.

Wilkins: There seems to be a bit of a controversy surrounding how you attained your pro card status. Can you clear it up once and for all?

Al-Sabah: I would not necessarily call it a controversy as very few people have complained about me receiving my pro card. I will say that my circumstances were special.

As I started to compete, I did not know where it would lead. My main goal was to see how far I could push myself and change my body. When I first started getting into the fitness lifestyle, one of my aunts used to always tell me, "Dina, you are not an athlete. Stop watching what you eat and exercising so much because you are never going to change the way you look. Just learn to live with it."

I was determined to prove her wrong. Needless to say, once I started competing I was hooked and thanks to good genetics, I was able to do well. After winning the Monica Brant Fitness Classic in 2001, I thought that I should give the first ever NPC Figure Nationals a try. That was when I found out that I had to be a U.S. citizen in order to compete at any of the NPC pro qualifiers.

I was stumped, so I set about trying to find out what I had to do as a Kuwaiti citizen to turn pro with the IFBB. After many many phone calls I was told that I would have to have the Kuwaiti national federation (associated with the IFBB) recommend me, and there was no way around it.

Kuwait is a very traditional Arab country so I knew that no one would ever recommend me. They do not have female bodybuilding, fitness or figure. In fact I don't even know if they have any female athletes. I think the thought of women on stage in bikinis would be so outrageous it would cause a riot!

In 2002, I competed in well-known NPC competitions that were held in conjunction with IFBB Fitness competitions so that the IFBB judges would evaluate my physique. I thought that if I were good enough someone would take notice. I was fortunate enough to win the Bev Francis Atlantic States Figure competition, the Debbie Kruck Classic Figure competition and the Pittsburgh Northeast Classic Figure competition.

In October 2002, I decided that based on my recent success, it would be IFBB or bust. I contacted the person in charge of the Arab Bodybuilding Federation and explained that since Kuwait had no Figure division, would they recommend me to the IFBB for pro status.

I got the same old answer. "We cannot help you; you have to have the Kuwaitis do it"

Finally, after consulting with NPC President Jim Manion, I decided to send a letter explaining my situation to IFBB President, Ben Weider. I explained in my letter that I pretty much had nowhere to go and would never get a recommendation from Kuwait since the whole concept of a female physique show was morally apprehensible to them. My letter finally set the wheels in motion and in November 2002, I was informed that due to my special circumstances, I would be granted IFBB Pro status.

Needless to say I was thrilled!

Wilkins: Is your family supportive of your decision to compete?

Al-Sabah: My husband and the family I am in touch with (mom, one aunt and one cousin) are supportive of my efforts. Other members of my family have chosen either to ignore the fact that I compete or have gone further and decided not to interact with me as they consider competing to be immoral. I do get e-mails from Arabs around the world. Some of the messages are very supportive, while others are close to "hate mail."

Most of the "hate mail" comes from distant relatives as they feel I have sullied the family name.

Wilkins: Sacrificing family relationships to compete must have been difficult. Besides your husband and select family members, are there others who have provided a shoulder to lean on and helped you get through tough situations in regards to your desire to compete?

Al-Sabah: My friends have always supported me, including Shari "King" Kamali. I also have had great people to work with including Roger Semsch who currently does my contest prep as well as Mike Davies who has coached me in the past.

Wilkins: If you could change three things in the IFBB, what would they be?


  1. Establish a step-by-step policy to assist athletes whose countries are not supportive of their competitive efforts to turn pro, achieve their dream and receive their IFBB Pro card.

  2. Transparent judging, where the athletes know exactly how they were scored by each individual judge (Use the judges names and show how they scored each round).

  3. Promote the sport more. So many people do not know about Fitness and Figure

Wilkins: What do you suggest the IFBB do to promote Fitness and Figure to a wider audience? What are some of the things you are doing to help increase the public's awareness?

Al-Sabah: I guess the IFBB could advertise the Figure and Fitness disciplines more actively. Everyone knows about bodybuilding, so it is just a matter of making them aware that the other disciplines exist.

I have not started doing anything just yet as I have been so busy competing and catching up at work, but I have several ideas. I think that there should be some sort of "giving back to the community" so I'm interested in giving presentations to high and junior high school girls about the importance of eating right and working out. So many teenagers have very skewed body images and I feel that if someone were to take the time to show them what is right, they would be much happier.

I know that when I was a teenager, I starved myself and had issues with the way I looked so it would have been extremely beneficial if I had someone teach me the correct way to get into shape.

I would also want to focus on the importance of getting an education. So many youngsters get carried away with athletics that they give up on school. I want to show them that it is possible to have a great education and be an athlete at the same time. I am also interested in possibly setting up small clinics at my gym just to introduce people to Figure, and to help out aspiring competitors.

Wilkins: As you know, Shawn Ray is actively pursuing the position of IFBB Men's Representative. Do you feel the IFBB pro athletes should form a union or need a Spokesperson to speak on their behalf?

Al-Sabah: I believe that each division should have an athlete representative. Shawn Ray is trying to get enough signatures to represent the men, and I think that someone should definitely represent the Figure athletes and voice their concerns.

Wilkins: Are you interested in representing the Figure athletes?

Al-Sabah: I am just starting my competitive career. I don't think I would want to be the rep while actively competing as people may think it to be a conflict of interest. I would definitely be interested once I retire.

Wilkins: Please describe your feelings after winning the 2003 Jan Tana?

Al-Sabah: Two words: ecstatic and speechless! It was a dream come true.

Wilkins: The internet now plays a major role in the rapid dissemination of information to the fans. Do you read the various web sites related to the industry to see what the fans have to say? What are some of your favorite sites?

Al-Sabah: Yes, I am an active poster on several boards. I love interacting with fans and answering their questions. I participate,, and of course

Wilkins: What are your career aspirations?

Al-Sabah: Well, my career is firmly anchored in the corporate world. I have a BS in Electrical Engineering, and MS in Telecommunications and Computers and an MBA. I am currently VP of Information Systems for a mortgage bank, and down the road I would love to be in a CTO or CIO position, but honestly who knows... I might take off and start designing widgets!

Wilkins: Are you currently under contract as a product endorser and if so, what company?

Al-Sabah: I would only consider signing a contract if the terms fit in with my corporate career.

Wilkins: What is the strangest thing a fan has ever said to you in person?

Al-Sabah: "Do you think you could lift me?"

Wilkins: Are you close to any of your fellow competitors?

Al-Sabah: I am close to Elaine Goodlad and her husband Terry. They are some of the nicest people I have ever met. Other people I am friendly with include Tammy Leady, Davana Medina and Jenny Lynn... all very wonderful ladies and loads of fun to hang out with.

Wilkins: The Figure competition has the potential to be the most highly contested of all the Olympia titles. Figure competitors Jenny Lynn and Davana Medina each have two wins and you also have an overall victory. Add in former Ms. Olympia Fitness, Monica Brant, this will be a real tough line up for the judges. What do you feel separates you from the rest of the pack?

Al-Sabah: Oh gees. I would hate to be a judge at the Olympia. I think the line up is very challenging, and each of us looks so different from the other. All the ladies look great…. I am just "me" that is what separates me from the rest. At the end of the day, the package that is most pleasing to the majority of the judges will win.

Wilkins: Preparing to compete takes dedication, motivation, and supreme sacrifice. What words of wisdom can you provide to assist a person with their preparation?

Al-Sabah: Make sure to enjoy yourself. In this "sport" you are competing against yourself. Where you place does not matter, what matters is knowing you gave it your very best effort.

In October, Dina will be one of the favorites to win the first ever Olympia Figure title. "I am honored to be competing in the Figure Olympia," she said. Commenting on Dina is fellow IFBB Figure competitor, Elaine Goodlad, "Dina is a stallion; her presence on stage with her smooth symmetry and curvy lines is that of a thoroughbred. Style and grace seem to come very easy to her (except when she's stuffing cookies into her face backstage). Aside from the competition, Dina has been a kind, generous and loyal friend."

"A year ago I did not know what I was going to be doing competitively, and here I am today fresh off my first pro win at the Jan Tana and about to get ready to step on stage with one of my idols Monica Brant. Dreams do come true," commented Dina.

For personal appearances, photo shoots, or product endorsement, please contact Dina at:

    PMB 316
    11140 Rockville Pike
    Rockville, MD 20852

Contest History:

    2003 Jan Tana (Pro Figure): Overall
    2003 Night of the Champions (Pro Figure): 6th
    2003 Pittsburgh Pro Figure: 4th
    2002 North East Classic (Figure): Overall
    2002 Debbie Kruck Classic (Figure): Overall
    2002 Bev Francis Championship (Figure): Overall
    2002 Pittsburgh Championship (Figure Tall): 3rd
    2001 North East Classic (Figure Tall): 3rd
    2001 Jan Tana (Figure Tall): 1st
    2001 Monica Brant Fitness Classic Fitness: Overall
    2000 BodyRock 2000 Lightweight: 2nd and Best Poser
    2000 East Coast Tournament of Champions (Middleweight): 4th

More Pics Of Dina:

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About Rob Wilkins

Rob Wilkins is a Special Assistant to the International Federation of Bodybuilders (IFBB) and a recipient of the IFBB Gold Medal. To contact Wilkins e-mail him at