Shirin Gerami, a 26-year-old woman, just became the first Iranian female triathlete to compete in and finish the 2016 Ironman world championship in Kona, Hawaii on October 8.
She swam 2.4 miles in choppy water, biked 112 miles, and ran 26.2 miles all while respecting the regulations her country enforces, requiring women to be covered at all times in public settings.
Before the race, Gerami told Sports Illustrated: “This will be the first time a female will be officially representing Iran in an Ironman. What was important to me was to create an opportunity where all women could access triathlons, to reap the psychological, physical and social benefits of sports—to swim, bike, run, immerse in nature and grow as a person. I believe what is most important is to have the opportunity”.
Gerami already transcended history in 2013, as Iran’s first female triathlete, following the International Triathlon Union World Championships in London.
Gerami prepares for the swimming leg of the Staffordshire triathlon, June 2016, England (Photo: FinisherPix)
By representing her country and respecting Islamic culture, Gerami agreed to respect the rules and regulations of Iran, which requires women to be covered in public settings.
“My hope is that by finding the right solution, the clothes would then provide an opportunity for more women to access sports,” Gerami says.
“Women who prefer to cover in order to respect religious or cultural values, personal modesty, body confidence issues, health and skin problems, [or] sun protection.”
According to Gerami, triathlon is a relatively new sport in Iran and even though men are authorized to compete, their problem lies within race logistics.
“For men, it’s not so much the question of obtaining permission to do triathlons, but the challenge lies in having access to good facilities, knowledge and coaching, funding, racing opportunities and experience—all that is needed to develop a sport in a place where it previously did not exist,” she says.
Gerami, who is in her 20s, started doing triathlons as a hobby during her last year of college at Durham University in England.
She 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.
“In Iran, there are signs everywhere that say that covering, or the hijab, is not a hindrance — and it’s something I totally believe in. What you wear does not define who you are and what you can and can’t do. It’s just a piece of fabric,” says Gerami.