Team Afghanistan training update: Some success, some failure

June 2, 2019

Personally, I am scared to death of my goal but I will not let the fear of failure stop me from tri-ing. Life has successes and failures. I’ve learned to appreciate both, but I know unless you tri, you won’t have either.

I wrote that in October 2017 when I was attempting a world record by becoming the first woman to do six IRONMANs on six continents within one year. It serves as a good reminder as She Can Tri works to support a handful of Afghan women on the road to the IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship in 2020.

Slim resources

She Can Tri’s Team Afghanistan has been diligently swimming twice a week for several months now.

Despite being a city of more than 5 million people, there are only two pools in Kabul that allow women; both are small and expensive. Essentially, the athletes are training for a 1.2-mile swim (1.9-km) in a “kiddie pool.”

Furthermore, when a woman is menstruating she is not allowed to swim in the pubic pools or she will get fined.

As if trying to teach adults to swim wasn’t challenging enough. With the lack of resources, if one of these women crosses the finish line at an IRONMAN event it will be miraculous – much harder than anything I’ve ever accomplished, including that world record.

Barriers to entry

I ask a lot of the Afghan women who have chosen to go down this path with She Can Tri, and they give a lot in return. But with all the passion in the world, if it is unsafe to participate in sport or if there are simply no good places to train, it becomes increasingly difficult.

Keep in mind, the Taliban ruled Afghanistan during the lifetime of these athletes. At some point during their life they all lived as refugees. Also remember, under the Taliban, women were not allowed to go to school, participation in sport was out of the question.

Today, less than 20% of Afghans say that female members contribute to their household income, and the proportion of women who report involvement with any economic activity to earn income remains dramatically low at 12.2%.

Meanwhile, all of the Afghan She Can TriAthletes work, and although they only take home a couple hundred dollars a month, they choose to spend some of their money getting to and from practice.

Right now we are working to raise money for actual road bicycles, but for the time being we have resorted to training indoors for simplicity. The athletes participated in an international spin marathon to help She Can Tri raise money to purchase spin bikes. They each cycled at the event for three hours straight!

We have also been diligently working to organize a training camp for the women outside of Kabul; however, getting visas to Europe is still in the works.

Unfortunately, all the places that are a little easier for Afghans to obtain visas are incredibly hot during the summer months, and would not be ideal for training. We might melt instead.

Failure is part of the journey

In May, the Afghan athletes also competed in their first practice triathlon at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. None of them could finish the swim portion, but I am beyond proud they tried.

It takes courage to tri in life. It takes courage to change the status quo.

Views about what roles women should play in society still have a long way to go. Sport can help shift hearts and minds. She Can Tri’s Team Afghanistan is not giving up anytime soon.

“Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire, it has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope, where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than governments in breaking down racial barriers. It laughs in the face of all types of discrimination.” – Nelson Mandela 

-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.