Hundreds of people in Maplewood, New Jersey, turned out Saturday to honor Olympic bronze medalist fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad, the first American Muslim to wear a hijab veil during Olympic competition.
"I never felt different here," the 31-year-old daughter of a police detective and a teacher said of her hometown. Maplewood, a community of 24,000 people about 18½ miles (30 kilometers) west of New York City, honored her on "Ibti Day" with a parade and other festivities.
Wearing her bronze medal over an Olympic T-shirt, Muhammad told her fans: "Even in those moments when I'm on the road and I'm fencing and I was told that I didn't belong, or that I shouldn't fence because I was a girl, or because I was black, or because I was a Muslim, I want everyone to know that I never felt that here at home.
"It was an honor not to just represent our town and our state and the United States, but to represent a whole community that has always believed in me and my abilities," she said.
The young fencer said she hoped to serve as a role model for people who feel limited by some aspect of who they are.
Muhammad won the bronze in the team saber event last month in Rio de Janeiro. She has used her growing popularity since then to insist that a Muslim woman in a hijab can represent the United States as well as anyone else.