Shirin Gerami

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Ironman Kona: Is Anything Possible?

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.

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