Ibtihaj Muhammad grew up like any American kid.
Her parents encouraged her and her four siblings to play sports, and she participated in everything from tennis to track and field. But while her teammates wore short-sleeved shirts and shorts, her mom would sew sleeves on shirts, or find her sweatpants to wear.
"I just remember being singled out because I was different," she said.
Despite the backlash, Muhammad never felt she was a part of the team — until she discovered fencing. She and her mother drove by a local Maplewood, New Jersey, high school and saw people trying the sport.
"That was the first time in my life, being involved in fencing, that I was in uniform with everyone else," she said. "I really felt in this space where I was accepted by not just my teammates but I felt comfortable in myself."
After training for years, going to Duke University with a partial scholarship for her fencing and failing to qualify for the 2012 Olympics, Muhammad is finally a member of Team USA. Though she was knocked out in the second round of the women's individual saber competition, she'll have a second chance for Olympic gold when she competes in the women's team saber event on Saturday.
Notably, she's the first Muslim athlete to compete on behalf of the U.S. while wearing a hijab. And she's finding herself becoming a spokesperson for diversity and acceptance for brands such as Visa.
"In fencing, I've always loved in my sport once I put my mask on, I'm like everyone else," she said. "My uniform doesn't seem different in any way. People don't see I'm African-American in a sport that isn't diverse, or that I'm a Muslim woman in a sport that isn't diverse. I'm just solely known for my kind of athletic ability first and foremost."