Behind the scenes: #TeamAfghanistan heads to Dubai to train
January 1, 2019: I’ve recruited four Afghan She Can TriAthletes. In one month we will be in Dubai to watch the IRONMAN 70.3. I’m so scared this plan is going to fail, but I will push on like I have no other option. I’ve always been a dreamer – I see an Afghan woman crossing the finish line of the IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship – this is going to happen.
When I wrote that in my journal I was not sure how I was going to get my athletes to the IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship but I thought watching a race and training in Dubai was the logical first step.
My to-do list for our trip was getting longer every day: visas, t-shirts, burkinis, where we would swim, organizing fitness classes, reaching out to other triathletes to meet with them. Miraculously everything fell into place.
January 30, 2019: It was snowing this morning as I boarded the bus to go to the airport. As the Azerbaijan guards checked my ID it was dark outside. I did not know what they were saying but could tell I would be moving along shortly. I saw a little Afghan boy, wrapped up ever so tightly, as I walked into the airport to be searched by the female Afghan police officers. I thought about what kind of world he would grow up in as I waited on my athletes.
Of course there was traffic and my athletes were stuck at one of the many security checkpoints on the way to the Hamid Karzai International Airport. Luckily once inside I knew the woman who was working from karaoke. She helped us cut in line and get through quickly, by the time we walked up the stairs to the waiting area it was time to board.
Once on the plane, things started looking up. They had overbooked the flight and had exactly five extra seats in business class. We all got upgraded! And off to Dubai we went.
January 31, 2019: The team swam for the first time today. After the swim as we were eating lunch I just looked at the girls and knew we had so much work to do. Some of them were scared of the water. I started to cry.
I felt horrible for crying at lunch that day, after all I was supposed to be the strong coach and mentor. The women all came and hugged me and promised that they would train to get better, which only made me cry harder. I wished we would be training in a place like Dubai, but the truth was that we would be training in Afghanistan, one of the worst places in the world to be a woman, one of the worst places in the world to train safely for sports.
Training for an IRONMAN 70.3 is a difficult task for anyone, but these women cannot just walk out their front door and run or hop on a bicycle. And while a second pool for women just opened in Kabul, it is difficult to get to and the hours are not exactly convenient.
I remember when I first started running with these women last year. I asked them what would happen if they just ran out in the open and they told me people would yell at them and some would try to hit them with rocks. I thought of a different name for that - stoning.
I wondered if we had set an impossible goal?
January 31, 2019: My tears turned into a smile when later in the afternoon I walked into one of their rooms and all four of them were huddled around a phone. I asked them what they were watching and they all said swimming videos. I knew then I can’t and won’t give up on these ladies. If anyone in the world deserves my help and support it is them.
Our goal is certainly daunting for lots of reasons:
1. None of the athletes know how to competitively swim
2. None of the athletes know how to competitively cycle
3. Or own a bicycle
4. Or a trisuit
5. Or a wetsuit
6. Or a bicycle box
7. Or a bicycle pump
8. Or a bicycle helmet
9. Or cycling shoes
But, believe it or not, I was in the same boat before my first IRONMAN. And what triathlon has taught me is that no amount of fancy equipment is going to get you across that finish line.
As we watched the IRONMAN 70.3 Dubai on Friday, I thought, yes, we have a long way to go, but in a year, we will be competing here with the hopes of earning a spot in the IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship.
The finish line for these Afghan women is not just about proving something to themselves. They are proving to their country that women can accomplish amazing things when they put their mind to it. They are showing men and women as equals on and off the playing field. Training for the IRONMAN 70.3 is about more than triathlon – these brave women will be racing for equality.
-Jackie Faye, She Can Tri founder
She Can Tri is training Afghanistan’s first women triathletes in partnership with Free to Run. They have their sights on the 2020 IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship in Taupo, New Zealand. If you would like to join the movement and race for equality please contact us.