Never had I imagined I would be racing Ironman Kona. To tell you this story I need to take you back to 2013; the lead up to my first race for Iran, the ITU World Champs in London. I went seeking permission to represent Iran in triathlons, when women were not yet sanctioned to do triathlons officially. Like all adventures, this is my story the way I remember it.
Flashback to four days before the ITU World Champs. I had just missed my flight to London since the decision on my permit was still pending. I was standing in the Iranian Sport Ministry. I wanted to know I had tried everything within my means to make this happen.
Surprised to find me in the ministry again, one of the authorities said she would tell me the brutal reality to spare me the heartache later. For my own sake, I should accept that it would be impossible to get permission in time for the race.
I could see the reason and logical to what she was saying. My own reason and logic begged me to give up. I had run around ministries, federations and clothing workshops non stop. I had flown thousands of miles hoping that a door would open. I was exhausted like never before.
But the quest was no longer one for permission to compete in a race. It was something much more personal now. I was questioning the fundamental beliefs and aphorisms that nurture us. Was it true that ‘nothing is impossible’; ‘where there is a will, there is a way’; ‘the sky is the limit…’? Ultimately we must take that leap of faith and believe with all our might, despite all the intervening obstacles?
And what if I gave up now? How could I look myself in the mirror again and persuade myself to believe with all my heart, never giving up until I reached my goal? For the sake of daring to dream again in the future, for the sake of being able to face another challenge, I needed to keep believing. I had to keep trying.
I looked at the authority, totally lost for words. Eventually I spoke out. ‘For the sake of my beliefs, I need to keep trying.’ ‘I can’t tell you not to try,’ she said, ‘but there is nothing more we can do for you here.’ With that, she left me to deal with other business.
The night before the race found me in Hyde Park by the event venue, speaking to members of the ITU. It was 9pm, the permission had not yet come through, and I no longer knew why I had requested a meeting. Unbeknown to me at the time, the Iranian triathlon federation had emailed the ITU stating that under no circumstances should I be allowed to race for Iran. I sat across the table facing three members of the ITU, questioning the faith and values I had been hoping to believe in. Maybe there is a limit to dream, maybe there is an impossible. Then, my phone rang. I was told permission had been granted and I could represent Iran the following morning.
I walked through Hyde Park, digesting what had just happened. Finding myself alone in the pitch dark, I crumbled on the grass with tears of joy and relief pouring from the depth of my being. I was elated and so grateful for everything that happened along the way so far to London ITU World Champs: all the challenges, obstacles and moments of hope. Gratitude for all those moments behind ministry doors where I was told it was impossible, and to all those people who encouraged me to remain positive. For it is this combination that climaxed into that beautiful moment in the darkness of Hyde Park: a strong restoration of my faith.
This year, the journey is Ironman Kona. As opposed to London, this time I am sharing the journey with two others: IRONMAN, who believe that anything is possible and have invited me to compete; and Tri Training Harder, who embrace the philosophy believe, strive, achieve, and are helping me train.
I have no idea what the next 6 months have in store for me. The journey has barely started and I have already once been rejected a visa to the United States to participate in Kona – which is thankfully being revised. Authorities in Iran are still undecided on whether to support me on this journey or not. The quest to find the right expertise to design suitable clothes for Kona whilst respecting the rules of Iran has taken me across a few continents and has not borne fruit yet. The complications of getting to the start line aside, can my body cope with the stresses and demands of one of the most challenging sporting events in the world – in the heat, wind and humidity of Kona – whilst dressed in full body clothing?
As I take my first steps towards Kona, I can’t help but ask the same questions I had in the lead up to London – despite that empowering moment in Hyde Park. What if I took the leap of faith and believed that I will get to the start line; support, permissions and paperwork in tact; with appropriate kit that won’t hinder me in Kona; and physically and mentally prepared to take up this sporting challenge? Is there a limit to dreaming?
Blogs are easier to write in hindsight: that impossible that became possible. What makes this daunting is that I am writing about Kona before it happens: as that seemingly impossible, that I would love to make possible. Who knows what tomorrow brings, but today, I shall believe with my every being, work to the best of my ability, and continue dreaming. And remember to embrace the whole journey with gratitude as it will be the combination of the bright and dark moments that will shape me and my journey in six months time and beyond.
Its been a while since I last wrote a blog entry. Adventures and mischief have been in abundance, but I guess I was going through a restructuring process in my head to understand why I keep a blog. Approximately a year on, and thanks to a brainstorm I had with a lovely human being, I have come to conclude that the blogging should go on.
The problem with blogging is that it leaves you so totally and utterly vulnerable: it exposes one fresh and raw, exactly as we are. Strengths and weaknesses, joys and grief – the whole package exactly as it is. All to an unknown audience around the globe, all with different views and ways of life. Everyone with a definition of how one ought to be and think: some black, some white, and others grey. Some accepting, others controlling. I find this very daunting.
So why have I decided to pick up blogging again? On one hand, I decided to regard it as a personal journey to be true to who I am: my strengths and weaknesses, beliefs and way of life. Be accountable to myself about who I am today, and then strive to grow for the better along the way.
On the other hand, through blogging, I wanted to create my personal corner, away from the edits and selective stories of the media. My story and journey as I have experienced and seen it through my own unedited words. That ordinary little girl with all her imperfections: her dreams, her failures, her ups and downs. Just like all other ordinary girls: unique on a micro level of individual personalities and beliefs; yet the same on a macro level of dreams, hopes, ambitions and imperfections.
And so here starts a whirlwind of emotions and adventures: Dreams, hopes, falling, getting up, falling, getting up, falling… and at times achieving. My journey, my love affair with life, and its different shades of dark, light and neutral that paints this life so beautifully.
The topic of the TEDx Kish talk was ‘Tipping point’
What was the point that caused one to do something that was important to them?
For me, it was that night in the Alborz Mountains, the start of a journey to understand gratitude. Gratitude, love or Esq to all the people who paint my life every single day, in their beautiful yet different shades. It is sharing the power of sports and the outdoors, something that has revived me when I most needed it. It is the hope that the next travellers who pass through this hut on earth, they too could experience what has blessed me so much during my stay.
I initially wanted to portray only half the story, the easy tales to tell. But the reality is, this is why I do it. In the hope that no matter how far down our journey takes us in life, we all find a path that will help us climb back up again.
The bruises are finally disappearing, the bumps and swells are subsiding, and even the vicious mosquito bites are miraculously going away. I confess it was rather entertaining examining all the new bruises, scratches and swells every night, it was like collecting exquisite graffiti on my body. All that remains of Xterra Malaysia (and the journey to) is the mark where the chainring teeth sunk deep into my calves — and a lifetime of warm memories and unforgettable lessons.
I rocked up to Langkawi, Malaysia four days before the off-road triathlon race. I mean, how hard could it be?! I’d spent a month training on a mountain bike with Jean Pierre, had had a semi-successful attempt on a mountain bike in Iran, (admittedly mostly spent pedalling on tarmac)… And I had given myself a few days to go around the bike course to familiarise myself with it. Surely I was all set and ready for Xterra Malaysia?!
The event organisers had kindly arranged for me to borrow someone’s mountain bike for the race. My beloved Dorothy (my roadie) simply can’t deal with anything but tarmac. I collected the bike first thing in the morning and set off… I put the first kilometre and a half behind me. There were roots, rocks and streams which I cautiously walked over, and thought: it isn’t all that bad.
But then I turned around the corner… I don’t know how long I stood there gaping at what lay ahead, wondering how on earth I’d ever be able to get up that massive hill/mountain! I probably would have just stood there transfixed for an additional few minutes had Ray and Elsa (two of the event organisers) not arrived moments later to check up on the course. Encouraging me to go on, I got back on the bike huffing and puffing my way up parts of it, thighs and lungs on fire, not to mention all the wheelies I was performing due to my lack of mountain biking ability. Sometimes Ray would ride the bike, sometimes I’d walk the bike, sometimes I’d attempt to ride, but would fall over. After what seemed like an eternity I asked Ray, ‘are we even past the halfway mark yet?’ I was actually waiting for him to say, we’re more than three quarters of the way in. ‘This is the 3km mark,’ he said. ‘There’s another 27km to go…’
To my relief, Ray and Elsa finally left me on my own and I managed to ‘roll’ down to a road, coated in mud and blood. Exhausted, and out of food and water, I followed the road back to the hotel. I had covered 5km in 1 hour 45min.
With two days left to the race, I got on the phone to Paula. Paula is an angel of a lady who has by some miracle become a mentor, guide and a wonderful sounding board. ‘I don’t think this is good idea!’ I said. I know I am all the way in Langkawi, and it would be very bad if I didn’t race, but I then proceeded to list a whole lot of excuses – starting from the swim, then bike and then the run – trying to convince her and myself on why I should not take part in the race. ‘Paula, I think I should withdraw.’
As always, thanks to Paula’s ability to make me see things through a clearer lens, I actually made it to the race start. Granted, the other elites were miles ahead of me before the sound of the gun had even had the chance to disperse in the environment, but I was actually surprised at how I performed. It’s a satisfactory feeling to look back and see the progress made: I raced over obstacles that petrified me two months ago without a second thought. I completed a course that seemed beyond my imagination and capacity a year prior. Let’s face it: I managed to stay on the bike throughout most of the course, something I had been incapable of just a few days before!
After the race, Belinda, one of the pros, radiating her usual beautiful and genuine smile exclaimed: ‘you never stop smiling!’ Next to her, Dimity and Renata were radiating the same contagious smile. ’But it’s because you’re always smiling!’ I said. I was merely (and subconsciously) reflecting the heartfelt smiles and kindness everyone was showering on me. The encouragements, positivity, and the general beautiful attitude of all the amazing superheroes I was so fortunate to meet at the event was truly humbling.
I owe the fact that I ended up racing, as hard as I was trying to convince myself to withdraw, to two things. One, because I have a slightly stubborn streak. But the second, and most important reason is because of the incredible people who manifest themselves in my life. I am only that ordinary girl who manages to land herself into mischief a lot of the time. But it’s all about the untold stories of the incredible support of friends, family, and athletes who have always been my prime motivators to pursue my dreams. It’s their love, inspiration and contagious passion that constantly help me to think positive and to dream big. As two of the wonderful event organisers, Sean Chee and Dave Spence, taught me in words and by their actions: “It’s about appreciating, embracing and immersing ourselves in mother nature… it’s about living more.” I can only hope that at the very least, I could one day show my gratitude to all these wonderful people by passing on what they have bestowed on my life to others.
By now the aches and bruises are long forgotten, but the memories of Xterra will bring a smile to my face for years to come, and its lessons will remain with me for a lifetime. The lesson that I shouldn’t underestimate my mind and body. I should never give up from fear of failure before even trying. That through positive thinking and focus, the unattainable becomes attainable. That I am so fortunate to be able to look up towards such amazing human beings for inspiration. Will I do it again? Now that I’ve taken the first wobbly steps towards completing an Xterra, I would quite like to become more confident, capable and stronger. Far too ambitious, I know! But I wonder if focus, hard work, and a streak of stubbornness pays off?
“The universe will always show us the way if we are willing to see… let the opportunities come to you.”
It was around November last year. The lead up to the Edmonton World Champs and the issues I had encountered with getting permission had rightly or wrongly left me in an emotional tangle, exhausted and doubtful of my decisions. Its not that I didn’t want to continue racing, but the whole admin and logistics side, the incertitude, the not having permission until the last second, and the various challenges were getting far too overwhelmingly stressful. By the end of the race in Edmonton, I wasn’t quite sure if I wanted to continue, whether I should revert back to my ’normal’ life, if the ’sacrifices’ were worth it… simply put, I felt lost.
I wondered if I could possibly find someone/something that could guide me, mentor me, help me detangle the knot I could feel forming within me. And I searched… I had no idea what I was searching for, but I just prayed and kept on searching. Be it a coach, a friend, spiritual, sporting revelation, person, non-person… I was clueless what I was searching for.
During this internal confusion, I received a message from the BBC. They were starting a new radio programme called The Conversation, a format where two women from different countries and cultures talked about the work and experience which connected them. They wanted me to be on this programme with Anu Vaidyanathan, an Indian triathlete. Considering my tangled state of mind, I had avoided any public media activity for a while. But for some reason, I somehow agreed to participate in one of the episodes.
A week before the recording, the BBC sent me the finalised details of The Conversation. I was informed of the time and place and was sent a brief on the person I was to have a conversation with… but that person was Paula Newby-Fraser. To this date, I still don’t know what came of Anu Vaidyanathan.
And so I entered the BBC studios and on the other side of the world, Paula was sitting in the BBC’s recording studios in South Africa. There was something about her that I loved and connected with immediately. She spoke of her journey, her initial triathlon days in South Africa, her struggles in racing… As the conversation unravelled, it also helped untangle some of the thoughts and questions I had been battling with. From there stemmed the beginnings of a conversation between Paula and I, beyond the BBC programme. Shortly after the interview, she gave me two pieces of advice which I have come to cherish (and which she needs to remind me of every so often): “The universe will always show us the way if we are willing to see… let the opportunities come to you.”
If we are willing to see, the universe and its ways are pretty awesome. What were the chances for Paula to be replaced by Anu? That I accepted to take part in the BBC conversation, despite initially having wanted to not participate. The timing, which was when I was ready to give up on racing. Ironically, for Paula herself to tell me — when I still couldn’t pluck up enough courage to ask her if she would be willing to help and advise me — that I should let the opportunities come to me, to let the universe be my guide.
And since then, and thanks to the advice and sound words of Paula, I can only tell you that I’m back to loving life as an athlete, loving representing Iran in races, loving how the journey is developing, unfolding, and surprising me. And I can’t stop marvelling at how the universe manifests these amazing people and opportunities in front of me at times and in ways that I least expect it… if and when I am willing to see.
I was to attend TEDx Kish in Iran. In my head, it worked like the perfect plan. It was on my way to Malaysia, and I would be able to spend a week in beautiful Kish, swim in its gorgeous sea, train in its hot and humid conditions and acclimatise for my upcoming race. I saw a cyclist at the conference with a mountain bike. I went up to him to ask if he knew of places where I could rent a bike and/or mtb groups that trained in the area which I could join. Kourosh said he himself is from Tehran but he’ll ask around and let me know.
I spotted Kourosh on the last day as he was driving away in his car. He stopped to tell me that a friend of his has a bike that he’s happy to lend me for the day, and he could take me cycling around Kish. He himself was driving back to Tehran therefore relatively flexible with time. I told him that I’ve been doing some research, Kish is a small coral island, which means that with its flat sandy/coral surface, there is no where to practice my mountain biking skills. It might make more sense to go to Qeshm, a bigger island in the Gulf, which has a more diverse landscape and we might find more suitable terrain for mountain biking there. Did he fancy joining me for a ride in Qeshm instead, and then he can make his way to Tehran from there?
He had another idea… why don’t I join him on his road trip to Tehran? I will have access to his mtb and can ride to my heart’s content. After some debating, I said goodbye to the stunning waters of Kish with its coral reefs and schools of really beautiful fish that danced around me as I swam to and fro in the lady’s beach, and hopped on the ferry with Kourosh and the dozen other lorries and trucks to commence our 1800km ride to Tehran.
Our early morning start was replaced by a leisurely afternoon start, due to the delayed ferry crossing. We stopped at a shop to stock up on food and the salesman gave us two options: the highway that took 3 hours to Shiraz, or scenic route up and through the mountains which took around 7 hours. Scenic route and mountains was decided, I needed a place to mountain bike!
We started off on the flat, camels galore, passing by the dome like shapes indicating the location of subterranean canals found in the desert until we finally reached the mountains. Soon the road sign warnings of camel crossings were replaced by deer crossings. The barren mountains started to loom around us, exposing millions of years worth of bedding planes and sediment surfaces in all their different colours and widths. Each bend in the road would unravel a different pattern, different colours of rocks and soil, different shapes and rhythms, and different shrubs and flora which the goats were feasting upon. There is such intricate detail and extraordinary beauty in something that at first glance appears as void and empty. We stopped by the road side and got the mountain bike out.
I initially took to the mountains, slowly trying to find my confidence in rolling over rocks and uneven ground. However, it didn’t take long to realise that if we hoped to get anywhere near Shiraz by the end of the night, I had to give up the mountains, hit the tarmac and chase behind the car as fast as I could. Every now and again, I’d come across a tiny road side village where the little kids would come laughing and yelling after me, either on their own bikes or running beside me. The women would smile, wave me on and the lads would hit the road on the motorbikes along side me.
I’d find Kourosh behind every bend, keeping a watchful eye and at the same time occupying himself with his camera or in his own world, soaking up the beautiful silence around him. I climbed back in the car when darkness fell, at around 8pm. ‘How much longer do we have until Shiraz?’ I asked. ‘Don’t ask.’ he said. ‘Are we even halfway there yet?’ He chuckled. We still had a good 500km to go, and it takes a long while to put 500km behind us in these narrow, windy roads.
Kourosh entertained me with stories of when he rode his bike from Tehran to Kish – a journey that took him 45 days. He pointed at the places which he’d spent the night, the adventures and people met. After a while, not even Kourosh’s stories could keep me awake, and I nodded off to sleep. 12am, and we were still no where close. We took to desperate measures, and took turns driving whilst the other one slept. We were meant to stay the night at Kourosh’s friend’s, but by the time we rolled into Shiraz, it was 3am. We parked the car by a red salt lake by the side of the road and desperately tried to find a comfortable position to sleep. We woke up 4 hours later with a crooked neck, legs jammed, sticky, smelly and sweaty and not feeling rested at all. We had another 2 days of this ahead of us!
‘Kourosh,’ I said. ‘ This is no training ground for me – let’s drive as fast as we can towards Tehran, get it over with, and then I’ll be able to resume training there.’ He agreed, he knows some great mountain biking locations in Tehran which he can take me to. So we headed out of Shiraz and into a little village in an oasis high up in the mountains. We trekked to the very top where the last building was a tiny little cafe, and to my delight the owner was making the most of the morning breeze and pumping some weights. Excited, I asked if I could make use of his weights? Imagine a girl with a long flowy red and white skirt, flip flops and a ridiculous smile saying that to you in the middle of nowhere in the heart of the desert in Iran. In normal circumstances I would have spared him the heart attack, but I really needed to train! And so whilst breakfast was being prepared I got into my routine of dead lifts and bench presses trying to console myself that I would at least get some training in for the day.
It all started with an email – out of the blue.
“We are pleased to invite you to be part of Xterra Langkawi 2015…”