TEACHER Dana Abdulkarim has had to overcome discrimination, smile at jokes about bombs and withstand cake being thrown at her - all to play the game she loves, rounders.
Dana, who teaches PE at Dinnington Comprehensive School, is a star of the England Senior team and coach of the National Under-18 squad.
She has, however, encountered her fair share of prejudice because of the headscarf she sports - even when playing.
“After 9/11, I encountered some discrimination – I was thrown off a bus on one occasion and had cake thrown at me, weirdly,” Dana, a talented all-round sportswoman, said.
“Some men at the mosque said it wasn’t appropriate for a Muslim girl to play football and in netball there were objections to me wearing the hijab. One umpire even refused to start a match at a big netball rally because of my headscarf.
“But I’ve found absolutely no discrimination with rounders, although on the adult team the only slight problem is when the others go for a drink after matches and don’t immediately understand why I don’t come with them.
“Both at school and in my competitive sports career, I feel my job is not just about being a rounders international and a PE teacher but as a Muslim breaking new ground and creating awareness of our religion and culture.
“I’m open to all sorts of questions and I find the best weapon is humour.
“Kids sometimes have a joke asking ‘Have you got a bomb, Miss?’
Or ‘What colour’s your hair? You’ve got really nice hair, Miss; why not get it out more?’
“And I try to answer them truthfully and have a laugh at the same time.”
A canny tactician and talented deep fielder, Dana is gearing up for the major event of the season, the Home Internationals at Stafford on Sunday. She still finds it frustrating that rounders is still stereotyped as a child’s game which is far from the case at County - there’s a South Yorkshire League in operation in Sheffield - and international level.
“It’s really tactical and exciting to watch and it’s now getting increasing amounts of media coverage.
“Rounders is still a minority sport and even as internationals, we pay most of our own expenses.
“But it’s such an explosive game, really fast and addictive. In the England squad you have to run a complete rounder in about nine seconds.
“There’s no time for hesitation when you’ve hit the ball.”
It’s also pretty physical: Dana has broken her fingers about 20 times and her right shoulder bone was fractured when it was hit by a ball.
“When players hurl the ball it travels around 60mph over 7.5 yds, so it’s faster than cricket,” she added.
A former Sheffield High School pupil - “I was lucky to be at a school that encouraged the sport at a high level”, she says - Dana was first spotted by national selectors, aged just 13, during a schools match. She progressed to play for the England Under-21s and senior side at the age of 19.
Dana recently set up her own league team to try to encourage young players and give them the same opportunities she had.
She gives talks on stereotyping and has also encouraged numerous pupils at Dinnington to play the game to a high level.
Several have achieved national selection at different age groups including sixth formers Lauren Brown and Lauren Hobson, who are both in Dana’s England Under-18 squad.
As a top-level coach and umpire Dana has also helped to design several national coaching courses and believes the game’s camaraderie and accessibility is its real strength.
For more information on rounders, visit roundersengland.co.uk.