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Ibtihaj Muhammad is first American woman to win Olympics medal wearing a hijab

She says she hopes to inspire young athletes to defy stereotypes and pursue their dreams

CNN  — 

Ibtihaj Muhammad will leave Rio de Janeiro as more than an Olympic medalist – she’ll leave as a history maker.

The fencer was the first American athlete to compete in the Olympics while wearing a hijab. She then became the first American woman to earn a medal at the Olympics while wearing a hijab when her team took home the bronze.

“This has been a beautiful experience,” Muhammad told Chris Cuomo on Tuesday on CNN’s “New Day.” “This is the America that I know and I love. The America that is inclusive, that is accepting and encompasses people from all walks of life.”

Muhammad didn’t just go to Rio to win a medal. She said she went for all the young, American athletes.

“What I love about my experience here as a minority member of Team USA is that I’m able to encourage other youth to pursue their dreams, to not let other people dictate their journey for them,” she said.

Simone Biles … Simone (Manuel) in the pool even … we provide a different image than what people are used to seeing and we challenge the norm. We’re showing minority youth out there, we’re showing Americans that this is one of the beautiful things about our country.”

In an interview on CNN’s Facebook page, Muhammad said she looked up to Venus and Serena Williams as a kid.

“People challenged them for the way that they looked, (for) them being different for their hair, for these really small things that we tend to challenge women on,” she said. “I love that they never changed who they were. They forced us as viewers, us as society to accept who they were.”

And that’s what Muhammad said she loves about sports: At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter about race, gender or religion, but how talented you are.

What’s next for Muhammad? She isn’t sure if she’ll come back to another Olympics. At the moment, she’s focusing on the immediate future.

“I want to take a nap,” she said, laughing. “I’m just really looking forward to rest and recovery right now.”