As an Iranian refugee in search for asylum, Soolmaz Abooali grew up in the slums of Pakistan and Bangladesh. Experiencing the realities of violence, poverty, discrimination, and disempowerment, it is here that Soolmaz developed a spirit to fight conflict; one that has ultimately shaped her identity and work as a scholar, a martial artist, and an Iranian-American Muslim woman. Through leveraging her athlete platform, Soolmaz uses this unique set of experiences to change mainstream perceptions of marginalized groups and to foster their empowerment.
Soolmaz Abooali is an 11-time US National Champion, world medalist, and USA team member in Traditional Karate. She is working on her PhD in conflict resolution at George Mason University, with a focus on how non-governmental organizations use sport to address conflict. Soolmaz is also a professor at the University, teaching about the intersections of sport, conflict resolution, and diplomacy. Using her expertise in sport and scholarship, she conducts sport diplomacy/conflict resolution workshops for cross-sectional audiences within and outside the United States, and specifically with marginalized groups such as immigrants and women and girls. Her initiatives include partners such as United States Institute of Peace (USIP), United States Department of State (USDOS), the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition (PCFSN), philanthropic figures, and non-governmental organizations.
In her efforts to pay it forward, Soolmaz serves as an Athlete Ambassador for the American Amateur Karate Federation (AAKF) and Shirzanan (SHEER’zah-non). Alongside the AAKF, Soolmaz increases public awareness of Traditional Karate in school systems and in
immigrant communities through her speaking engagements and class instruction. As an Athlete Ambassador and Board of Advisory member at Shirzanan, she promotes equality for women in sport through sharing her story at lectures/events, contributing op-eds as well as her expertise of the Middle East, sport, and conflict resolution. Her debut book chapter, Building a Foundation for Diplomacy through Sport: Iran and United States, was published in 2017 and speaks to the role that athletes can play in bringing together people from divided nations.