NASEEM Akhtar is aiming to use her ‘shock’ appearance in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List as a springboard to shatter the ‘stereotype and myth’ about Asian women and exercise – and help keep the Simplyhealth Great Birmingham Run at the forefront of the most culturally-diverse half marathons in the UK.
The 51-year-old will be awarded the prestigious British Empire Medal (BEM) for her unstinting 21-year service to ‘health, fitness and sports for women in Birmingham’ at the Council House in September – just a month before she helps a group of Saheli Hub members earn their own medals at the Great Birmingham Run half marathon on Sunday 13 October.
The Saheli Hub began answering the need for female-only health and wellbeing activities across Birmingham in 1998, with its sessions catering for all cultural-sensitivities, including Muslim women.
As project manager, Naseem has inspired around 100 women to enter Great Run Company events in Brum since Saheli Hub began offering walk/jog/run sessions at city parks five years ago.
Through the Great Birmingham Run’s engagement with organisations like Saheli Hub, Sikhs in the City, Zero Hunger and PWC, plus its links with Commonwealth nations representatives and international students, the annual 13.1-mile challenge can stake a strong claim to being the most culturally-diverse half marathon in the country.
Naseem and her Saheli Hub team are aiming to celebrate that fact, not to mention the prestigious BEM, by encouraging even more women to become active – and join them at the start-line.
“I’m still in total shock but this isn’t about me,” said Naseem, who has also been invited to the Queen’s annual garden party at Buckingham Palace next year.
“The British Empire Medal is recognition for everyone involved with Saheli Hub – especially those who attend our sessions – as we look to empower women from all backgrounds to do what they want to do and be who they want to be.
“The most important thing is the BEM further highlights our ongoing mission to challenge that old stereotype of Asian women not being able to exercise or take part in sport. We’re shattering that myth by making exercise and sport accessible for women of any background, not just within their local community but in City-wide events and even further afield.
“We take great satisfaction in seeing women who have rarely walked long distances – let alone jog or run them – progress to completing events like the Great Birmingham 10K or Great Birmingham Run.
“We’re really proud our city hosts one of – if not the – most diverse half marathons in the country. We want to reinforce that by encouraging women from all backgrounds, faiths and age groups to get active, so they then reap the health benefits.”
Thousands of pounds will once again be raised for worthwhile causes when runners, joggers and walkers of all abilities tackle the Midlands’ most popular half marathon.
Saheli Hub organises weekly walk/jog/run groups for women of all abilities in four different parks around the city: Cannon Hill Park on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 7.30pm; Ward End Park on Wednesdays at 9:30am and Saturdays at 11:30am; Handsworth Park on Sundays at 9am; Small Heath Park on Sundays at 10am.
“We go out of our way to make new members feel comfortable and welcome,” added Naseem, who was among the group of Saheli Hub women that joined the Great Birmingham 10K Walking Wave last month during Ramadan.
“Many join us as complete novices with little-to-zero confidence. Slowly but surely, we help them achieve whatever they want to – be it regular, gentle exercise or to progress to events like the Great Birmingham 10K and Great Birmingham Run.”
To enter this year’s Simplyhealth Great Birmingham Run half marathon, which takes place on Sunday, October 13, visit: www.greatrun.org/great-birmingham-run
Anyone who entered the 2019 Great Birmingham 10K will receive £10 off their entry fee for the Simplyhealth Great Birmingham Run half marathon.