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Iran’s First Female Triathlete Is Changing The Game For Hijab-Wearing Athletes

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(Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images for Ironman)

Four years ago, Shirin Gerami was determined to become Iran’s first female triathlete. Hours before her debut race in London, her efforts were cut short by the sports ministry in Iran. In order for her to compete, the ministry needed to sign off on her racing outfit, confirming that each garment she was wearing obeyed the Muslim law’s dress code. Shirin needed an appropriate hijab, along with clothes that covered her hair, arms and legs. Without the support from the sports ministry she wouldn’t be able to compete.

After six months of going back and forth over her racing attire, Shirin finally got the green light to go the distance (one-mile swim, 24.8-mile bike, and 6.2-mile run) on behalf of her homeland and she hasn’t stopped since.

“What we wear does not define what we can do,” Shirin, who doesn’t wear a hijab in her day-to-day life in London, told Teen Vogue. “We live in a very diverse world where people may wish to cover up to varying degrees for different reasons, from health and self-confidence to modesty and religion—and not just Muslims, but also Orthodox Jews and Orthodox Christians. For me, it was a realization that due to the lack of covered clothing options in sports, we might be excluding a huge global community of women who may wish to participate in athletics, but currently can’t.”

She followed that race up with big league races in Canada and Malaysia with some smaller races before she set her sights on the mother of all triathlons, the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii last October. This event also required an outfit that obeyed the Islamic dress code. Shirin teamed up with various athletic brands to make it possible for her to race.

She finished the race in Kona with flying colors and right after that, she finished her fifth world-class triathlon in Bahrain in December.

After all of her racing success, she still isn’t quite ready to go pro just yet. Shirin’s really hoping to create a strong support system for herself and her peers.

“What was most powerful for me was developing a whole new level of respect and appreciation for the body,” Shirin said. “I realized how absolutely powerful — with all its imperfections — the body is and how it allows you to achieve things and go places, both geographically and within yourself. I’m just so grateful to have this body as it is.”

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