Shirin Gerami makes triathlon history in Hijab at Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii
The Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii is known for attracting the most inspiring triathletes, each with their own struggle and life journeys. History was made this year, when Shirin Gerami crossed the finish line as Iranian’s first and only women triathlete, covered from head to toe respectfully.
Inspiring women around the world, Gerami swam 3.8km in the open water, cycled 180km against the ferocious winds of Hawaii and ran 42km across the finish line of the Ironman World Championship in a very respectable time of 13 hours and 11 minutes.
“It was an absolutely beautiful race, I was able to do one of the toughest endurance challenges in the world while being covered,” said Shirin Gerami.
Gerami stands as the only one woman who has been allowed to represent Iran in triathlons. Gerami has been gingerly treading the lines of religious sentiments and sensitivities, was at the seamstress the day before the race tinkering with pockets and flaps, and the outfits felt a little heavy during the race.
“In the future, I want these clothes to be accessible to everyone.”
Most competitors wear some version of a leotard or a swimsuit but Gerami will do the whole thing in a hijab as per the Iran Triathlon Federation‘s requirement. Iranian law says all women must follow Islamic dress code by wearing “appropriate hijab.” Loosely defined, it means covering the hair and neck with a veil and dressing modestly, with loose-fitting clothing that hides arms and legs.
Gerami, started doing triathlons as a hobby while studying in England, and was inspired by a friend to represent Iran in the London triathlon. However, the Iran Triathlon Federation responded negatively and implied that they do not support women in triathlons due to ‘sensitivities’.
“I responded saying, ‘The main reason that you’re telling me that women can’t represent Iran in triathlons is because of clothes. So allow me to go find clothes and find a solution,'” adds Gerami.
Gerami doesn’t usually wear a hijab. But she decided to make it her mission to find athletic wear that would meet Iran’s standards so that more women can represent her birth country in international triathlons.
“If clothing can open a path for more women to participate in sports, then I believe it’s one of the easier barriers to overcome. I am quite certain that with the right set of skills and knowledge, we can make clothes that won’t hinder performance whatsoever. I don’t know how long this journey is going to take me, but I really want to see it through,” said Gerami.
“Women from all over the world contacted me saying we’d always dreamed of doing a triathlon but we never thought it would be possible,” says Gerami.
The Iran Triathlon Federation and the Iran Sports Ministry discussed setting up a female triathlon team, she says, but eventually decided against it. Women are allowed to represent Iran in the duathlon, which involves running and biking, but Gerami is blazing the triathlon trail.
“They told me I’m allowed to continue representing, but for the moment I’ll remain the sole female triathlete,” she says.
Gerami is now doing triathlons full-time. And she’s worked with a long list of companies to get her sportswear right — from Roka, a swimwear company in the U.S., to Merooj, a company in Iran that makes everything from soccer balls to Olympic uniforms.
For the swim, she wore a wetsuit and swim cap, covering herself with a robe once out of the water. On the bike, she wore a body suit with a white hood attached and a half-skirt to cover her rear. For the run, she added a mesh minidress on top.
Gerami sometimes trains in these clothes. Each piece is proof of a delicate balance between hiding Gerami’s shape, and keeping her from overheating or slowing down. Even the choice of fabric helps. The light blue color fends off the heat, and the paisley print camouflages curves.
Read more at NPR.org.