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Women Who Fly: Permission and privilege

Posted on January 26 2018

Shirin-still

Shirin Gerami knows more than most that barriers are meant to be broken. As the first ever female triathlete to represent Iran, one of her first conversations with the Iranian Triathlon Federation was about the clothes that she’d be wearing. There were no clothes that would allow her to compete. So she worked with brands to make clothes that would.

“If not all, most barriers are within ourselves that need to be broken. Barriers of how we think and how much we dare to dream and how much we dare to chase those dreams and how much we dare to not give up,” says Shirin, a triathlete based in London who trains for part of the year in Boulder, CO. “Our fears prohibit us from discovering so much about ourselves.”

I first discovered Shirin as she spoke as part of a panel discussion at the IRONMAN® World Championship, first noticing as she crossed her feet that she was wearing brightly colored and hard-to-miss HOKA Challengers. But as she began to tell her story, with the world’s most soothing voice and calm collective presence, I began to understand the significance of what she had done to break barriers, not just for herself, but for women around the world.

In 2017, we shared Shirin’s story as well as the powerful stories of other female runners through our Women Who Fly film series. But their stories didn’t end there. Almost a year later, we reached out to follow up and discover how current events have impacted the latest chapters of their lives. This is an excerpt from Shirin’s blog, shortly after she competed in the 2016 IRONMAN® World Championship in Kona, Hawaii. Her film is featured at the end of this story.

November 2016 | Shirin Gerami

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It was a spectacularly beautiful day – crispy cold, deep blue sky, and the sun set the yellow autumn leaves and orange berries on fire. The journalist was twenty minutes late and I was making use of the opportunity to go for a run and clear my head before she arrived.

She had sent me a list of questions the night before. As I ran, I thought about one of the questions she had asked: why did I choose to represent Iran?  There are so many reasons for it – and it’s always so hard to express them in words. But this morning, one scene kept playing itself over and over again in my mind.

It was 2003 when a huge earthquake shook the centre of Iran – completely destroying Bam, one of the most ancient cities of the country, killing at least 30,000 people. It was one the most devastating earthquakes the country had witnessed. Bam, a once vibrant, historic city had turned into a complete ghost town: the city turned into dust; and the people sitting on the rubbles, homeless, in shock, and mourning the loss of their loved ones. I joined a charity and started going to Bam in the hope of being of some use.

“The security they had always had, the world they had known, the people they had loved, sometimes their entire household … everything gone with the blink of an eye.”

One of my cousins, Salar, joined us on one of these trips. One day, we were going from tent to tent, talking to the children and hearing their stories. It had been a night, just like all other nights, children sleeping in their houses with their parents and siblings. They woke up to their world falling on their heads, literally. The security they had always had, the world they had known, the people they had loved, sometimes their entire household … everything gone with the blink of an eye.

At the end of the trip, my cousin told me: ‘this is so hard to digest. These kids, they are the same age as you and me. They are just like you and me. Yesterday, they had everything: shelter, security, food, family. Yet, everything changed so suddenly overnight. A change in their lives in a way they could have never imagined.’ Salar’s comment kept replaying in my head as I was running this morning, over and over again.

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On the surface, it’s hard to relate this to why I was thinking of this story as one of the reasons for why I represent Iran in triathlons. Something which I hope would eventually lead to the ability to share sports with those who currently can’t access it. It’s even harder to explain when you have a camera and microphone recording your every umm and err.

But experiences such as Bam are reminders that I have so many blessings in my life, and that I’m no different in any way or form to those who don’t have the same privileges. I just happened to be born under a lucky star. It’s a reminder that everything that I take for granted today, can change completely in the blink of an eye. It is a reminder to make the most I can from the blessings I have today, and share them now, whilst I am still under that lucky star… for who knows what tomorrow may bring. It is the very very least I can do to show my gratitude.

“Sharing the ability to access sports is only a droplet of an entire ocean of blessings I am privileged to have.”

I am by no means equating sports with basic necessities of life such as security, love and food – but it is a powerful tool that can bring joy and peace of mind (even if momentarily) in the direst circumstances of life. It is a celebration and/or creation of the mind and body that allows us to achieve our dreams and enables us to pull through difficult circumstances. Sharing the ability to access sports is only a droplet of an entire ocean of blessings I am privileged to have.

And then, tonight, I heard news of Salar. He had slipped and fallen down the fourth story of an apartment. His face smashed up, both of his arms and his rib cages crushed, and his lung punctured. Salar, who is always up for a good adventure and full of life no matter the circumstance. Salar, my cousin, my friend, someone so close to my heart.

“It’s so easy to forget that I am not in a special, invincible bubble. That these sudden change of circumstances can happen to anyone, including me.”

And again, I hear his voice repeat in my head. ‘They had everything that you and I currently have…. Yet, everything changed so suddenly overnight.’ It’s such a hard way to remind me of that lesson, Salar. The lesson that today, I can do the things I can do, but tomorrow I may not have any of the ‘privileges’. ‘Privileges’ in brackets, because, frankly, I’m probably taking most of them for granted right now, failing to see them as a privilege – until one day, I lose them. It’s so easy to forget that I am not in a special, invincible bubble. That these sudden change of circumstances can happen to anyone, including me.

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To run, to swim, to cycle, to play, to dance, to fly, to laugh, to hug, to love, to give, to breathe… whilst we still can. Privileges come and go, they are here for us to make the most out of them whilst they last. To share and multiply what we have so others can also access it, whilst we can. Who knows what we’ll wake up to tomorrow.

Salar azizam, we were planning so many adventures together this year… another Bradley adventure, backcountry skiing this winter? Get well soon. Karet daram. My thoughts and prayers are with you.

More on our Women Who Fly film series

Running is much more than just the physical mechanics of putting one foot in front of the other. It’s a test of mental strength and willpower, and for many, it’s also a form of meditation and healing. Watch as three women — each moved by a life-changing experience — share how running has led these inspiring women to overcome their challenges and be stronger for it. These are the Women Who Fly.

Featuring Shirin Gerami in the Clifton 4. 

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