Shirin Gerami

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Waiting. WTS Abu Dhabi

Some stories don’t seem to change! Feel free to laugh at/with me! So here I am in Abu Dhabi, again all pumped up and looking forward to the race… but as always, there is a slight hiccup. Frankly, after the experience of the past races, it would seem wrong if there wasn’t something going on!

One of the usual hiccups… problem with race clothes. This time, I’ve actually been so fortunate – someone else stepped in and said I’ll take care of them. She’s all the way in San Diego, haven’t even met her yet, but she’s like a distant angel taking the stress and complications of producing the clothes off my back. The time and energy this freed up thus enabling me to focus on training is amazing. It gave a whole new meaning to the joy of training.

I know that there’s this massively determined, driven and energetic lady who I barely know, and she’s doing all she can to get these clothes to me on time. I also know that I am so fortunate and grateful to have her support as this whole covered clothes issue is no easy feat. Furthermore, I know that even when we try our very best, sometimes life and time have a mind and definition of their own.

I don’t know how the clothes are going to look like – its going to be such a beautiful surprise. I don’t know how it would be possible to get the clothes over to Abu Dhabi from San Diego in time for the race on Saturday… but that adds to the surprise. I don’t know how the clothes are going to function in this heat and humidity, but really looking forward to their first test run.

There’s something about the story that has changed though, and that’s me. Two days before Edmonton and I was a sorry wreck crying my eyes out with stress, fatigue and incertitude. Today, with two days before Abu Dhabi, I am as calm and cool as the day after a race, it’s a beautiful state of mind to be in. The biggest lesson Edmonton taught me was that, really, it’s mostly about the journey to the race. The amazing people met, the awesome training done, the growth, the understanding and all that I learnt on my way to the race. This journey has certainly brought me to a better place.

I’m very much looking forward to experiencing the next two days unravel and see how I’ll make it to the start line.

Riding Waves

I’ve recently had the chance to dip my toes in the sea and actually test out rough open water swimming. Everyone’s given me a lot of hints and pointers on the little tricks I should be aware of, including how to bodysurf on the waves when I’m aiming to get out of the water.

Trust me, easier said than done! The instructions are: when you see a wave forming behind you, start swimming fast. When you’re on the wave, hook your hands on the wave and let it carry you to the shore… I see the others do it and it seems pretty straightforward. But when I have a go, there seem to be two case scenarios at play: either the wave just brushes past me completely ignoring all my frantic efforts to get a ride. It casually makes its way to the shore with me still attempting to swim after it completely out of breath. Or it decides to have a little fun, making me turn, twist and tumble in the water, feeding me as much salt water as humanly possible, leaving me gasping for air, goggles astray and completely disorientated. And then it casually makes its way to the shore without me.

Today, the waves were crisp, big and frequent. On my way back, I decided to give up on the fantasy of catching waves and swim my own way back to shore. Suddenly, there was a rumble, a wave made its way under me – it just connected with me. It swept me up, carried me at top speed towards the shore, and dropped me face first into a pool of foam and sand. In one word: exhilarating! All I could do was whoop with glee and laughter – a laugh so sincerely filled with love and joy for my surroundings. I managed to catch a wave – or rather, a wave managed to catch me! It is such an amazing feeling!

It reminded me of a Japanese film. If my memory serves right it said: life is like a wave. What ever resists it ends up in a wreck. What ever rides with it is taken towards beautiful shores in unrestrained joy.

Overly Balanced?

Year one at university:

I entered university bursting with excitement! So many books, so many amazing people, such an inspiring environment for learning… I had come to university to learn and I wanted to dedicate the entirety of my three years to learn – no faffing about.

Suffice it to say that my yearbook entry read: Favourite time of day: when the library opens; Favourite place: the library. Where to be found when lost: The library… I’ll spare you the rest.

By the end of the year, I felt for the first time, that I actually knew of a thing or two about what was happening around me. I could hold a conversation, enter a debate, write an essay – things that were completely beyond my abilities prior to university. However, I felt I had become a bit too one dimensional, that I was missing out on many other things in life.

That’s not right, I thought to myself. I need to find a balance.

Year two at university:

I plunged into as many extra curricular activities as humanly possibly. My friends described me as a blur, seen whizzing on my bike from one commitment to the other. My tutor once asked: so when do you relax? I relax by changing the type of activity I’m involved in, I said. I relax my brain when doing sports, relax my body when at a meeting, have fun when fundraising for charity, socialise when setting up events for the societies I am part of…

It was wonderful to be involved in so many activities, to be aware of so many different things happening around me, to meet so many different people through all these societies. However, I realised I had been so busy rushing from one activity to another, so busy trying to achieve all that I wanted to achieve, that I had left my friends no time at all. Frankly, my world is nothing without my friends. They are always there for me, but I felt I was never there for them.

That’s not right, I thought to myself. I need to find a balance.

Year three at university:

The most important thing that makes me be who I am, that inspires me to want achieve all I want to achieve are the people around me. I wanted to give back to them, all the love and motivation they had always given me – be there whenever they needed me. So I spent this stage of university prioritising my friends over my studies and extra curricular activities. To be flexible enough to be available whenever someone called, either to share their happiness or give a big energising hug when in need.

By the end of the year, I felt closer to my friends like I had never felt before. This amazing bond, the ability to share the moments and develop such a lovely relationship. It was beautiful. But I no longer felt content with myself. I felt I hadn’t achieved all that I could’ve, hadn’t developed myself as I should’ve.

That’s not right, I thought to myself. I need to find a balance.

And now:

I went to a yoga class. At the very end, and completely out of the blue, the teacher suddenly asked the class a very simple question: What is a balanced life?

I had never thought of asking myself that question before… What is a balanced life?

Honestly, we spend our entire life trying to achieve it, but what is a balanced life?!!!

Cycling in Shiraz

We were travelling across Iran. Trying to balance training, family and travelling, the plan was to run every two days. It was such an amazing plan – it meant that with every new city/village/location that we visited, I’d find a route, put on my running shoes and run to my heart’s content. Early in the morning, as the city/village was starting to wake up, I’d run past beautiful buildings, mosques, palaces, forests, sea, desert (depending on which leg of the journey)… It was a spectacular way to explore each new location, experience their different nature and climate, and witness their unique architecture and way of life.

I have to admit that I was missing my bike quite a lot, though! When we got to Shiraz, I saw a picture of someone on a bike in the place that we were staying, so I enquired a bit further and asked if there were cyclists around and whether I’d be able to borrow/rent a bike and join them? The lady got back to me a little while later saying that I could join the bike ride the following morning, and arranged a meeting point.

The following morning I waited for the cyclists to turn up, excited to be getting back on a bike, and even more so, to get to know and cycle with fellow cyclists. I knew I was in for an adventure… but had absolutely no idea of which variety! Finally a guy appears with a cream jacket, immaculately polished black shoes… and a bike. One bike. Am I going cycling with you, I asked. Yes! He said. I’ll be driving alongside you!

Not exactly what I had envisaged. But I was so looking forward to getting on a bike anyhow! So he bundled me and the bike in his car, and drove me out of the city. As we approached the mountains he said: so, when there’s an uphill I’ll drive you up and when there’s a downhill, you can cycle down. Errr… I would also quite like to cycle uphill, too! I said. You won’t be able to, he said bluntly. After some convincing, I get on his 26” mountain bike, its gears stuck on the highest gear and refusing to shift, the dry chain scraping noisily as it rubbed against the surrounding metal, cranks clicking and giving way with every rotation. There was no complaining after all that convincing! So I worked my way up the mountain reassuring myself it would be fantastic strength training. My cycling buddy in the car would pull up by my side every few minutes and ask: but aren’t you tired?! I’ve brought some tea for when you get tired, don’t you want to stop for tea?

It was a slow, but beautiful cycle. There’s something special about mountains and the barren countryside. I rolled past a couple of very small villages, but apart from that, it was me, the beautiful nature, and my newly found friend who’d by this point wait for me around the bends whilst fiddling on his phone.

As we approached the city, we finally stopped by the roadside for tea. He’d made green tea which had been brewing in his flask all morning with a cinnamon stick and sugar candy – possible one of the best teas I’ve ever had. As the saying goes in Iran: ‘It stuck!’ (i.e. everything about it was just amazing!).

As we drove back into the city, feeling content and energised by the beautiful bike ride, the guy said, frankly, I didn’t know it was possible to cycle uphill, as well. Next time, when I’m out with other cyclists, maybe I should ask them whether they would like to cycle uphill or not.

Sound of sand

I was travelling through the Lut desert with a group of friends a couple of years ago. As we approached the first sand dune, I ran to the top, crossed my hands on my chest and rolled down the dune at top speed. Sand working its way into my clothes, mouth, ears and nose. Before long, the sound of our laughter filled the air as we each rolled down the dunes and ran up for the next turn, trying to roll faster and faster each time.

After a while, a friend – an incredible being that I am so lucky to be able to consider as a friend – summoned me to the top of another dune where he was sitting motionlessly. I climbed up next to him, and he said listen. So I sat attentively and closed my eyes. Slowly, I became aware of the sand that was playfully tapping at my face, slowly, I became aware of the gentle whoosh of the wind as it brought the sand to life. I became aware of the rhythmic pattering of the sand that was whirling in the wind – it was mesmerising. It felt like I had suddenly been welcomed into the world of these tiny particles, a secret world filled with beautiful music, subtlety and energy.

After the hill reps today, I took a detour towards the sea to collect the bits I’d left behind from the morning swim. As I approached, I was greeted with the most beautiful view. As I sat on the cliff top watching a couple jogging with their child in a pram, I decided to revisit what my friend had taught me on top of the sand dune. I looked at the beautiful deep blue of the sea, slowly becoming aware of the unfathomable amount of shades of colours that form its beautiful blue. I became aware of the humming of the waves as they crashed underneath me, the deep blue breaking into a distinct, foamy white before reuniting with the deep blue of the sea.

One side of me wanted to soak in all the beauty surrounding me, the colours, calm and freshness. The other side of me mercilessly questioned what I’ve chosen to do with my life. It reminded me of what one of the sport authorities advised me in Iran, which is very much the echo of my own mindset at times: you could do more useful things with your life. Don’t pursue sports, go further your studies and find a real job.

I sat on the cliff top in a bit of a conflict. One side of me said, isn’t this what life is about? Acknowledging these subtle yet significant beauties that inspire and energise us, filling us with so much peace, joy and love for our surroundings and for life? Allow the love and beauty of life to inspire you. The other side said, what are you doing with your life? Isn’t it time to get a real job and to tick a few boxes of what you ought to have ticked by now? Follow the life that you ought to pursue.

I wonder what this journey and the conflicts that it has created will ultimately teach me. There’s definitely one thing that both sides of me agree with, though: life is a learning curve.

Ms. F

I often saw Ms. F at my aunt’s house. A fun, energetic, loving and caring lady, always making the most hilarious yet inappropriate comments, making the victim blush to the ear lobes and everyone else rolling around with laughter.

She spent the final two weeks of her life in hospital. As I was cycling past the hospital on my way home, I decided to stick my head around and say hello. I wasn’t expecting her to even remember me in her old age and deteriorating circumstances, but thought she might appreciate some company, no matter who it may be.

When I got there, she held on tight to my hands, and gave me the most loving smile. Two other ladies were by her bedside. It was time for food and they wanted her to have her dinner, but she would not let go of my hands to eat. She looked at me and said: stay for a while.

I had invited people over for my mum’s birthday for 7:30 that night. A while later, with the time at 6:45, the guests due to arrive at any moment, and dinner by no means anywhere near ready (I hadn’t even bought the ingredients yet!) I told Ms. F I had to go – but promised to come the day after. I was so touched and emotional as I left the hospital.

On my way to my aunt’s on Sunday, I stopped by the hospital again. As I approached her room, I saw that her family was by her bedside and hesitated by the door. I didn’t want to disturb their time together, yet I had promised to visit her again… I entered, shyly. She had a huge oxygen mask on her face this time and was struggling to breathe. She had shrunken since last I saw her and was using her entire body in an attempt to breathe. As I took her hands to say hello, her eyes opened and ignited with love, energy and her mischievous twinkle and she gave me the biggest most loving of smiles. She shook her head from side to side with affection and said: I love you, I love you, I love you like a tape on repeat.

Ms. F died the following day.

Two days later, I got home late in the evening and was browsing through my inbox. I was very excited to find an email in which I had been put in touch with a very exciting triathlon project, and they had responded so positively. It lifted my spirits so much that I kept twirled around the room chanting I love you, I love you, I love you, incessantly. I suddenly stopped still as I realised I was imitating Ms. F.

It made me realise how awesome a human being she had been – to be lying on her deathbed, with hardly any energy left, literally fighting to breathe… Yet still go through the trouble of mustering enough energy to show so much love and affection to me. To a near stranger, to a no-body. To make the effort to make even me feel loved, welcome and appreciated. What an amazing person with such an amazing personality. She set the bar so high: to magnanimously say ‘I love you’ with sincerity shining through her eyes. To make anyone, no matter who you they are – or how she’s feeling herself – loved, valued and worthwhile.

Meeting a teacher

I met up with a very dear teacher/tutor from school yesterday, someone who has impacted my life so positively. It struck me how close you can feel in thoughts with someone, yet how little you may know of them. Although it felt like I last saw him a year or two ago, in reality it had been more than 7 years!

What struck me even more was what amazing human beings, teachers are! They impact the lives of so many people, in such subtle, beautiful and thoughtful ways. They shape, form and guide us, giving us wings to fly towards our dreams. They have one of the most important jobs in society, yet are the most humble of human beings. I, for one, have been blessed with such wonderful teachers who have impacted me so much, helping me grow into the person that I am today.

It seems that often in life people do favours with some sort of interest in mind – a transaction with some sort of return in time. But teachers… I’d never fully grasped how they have always given so selflessly, so generously, wholeheartedly and gracefully, and yet so unassumingly. All the time they spent with me, the guidance, the thoughtful words, the encouragements and helping me through difficult moments – and never expecting anything in return. A silly girl who took her 7 years to merely say thank you for all that you have done for me. What a noble, humble, inexpressibly incredible person one must be to become a teacher.

Merooj

To represent Iran, I need to race in clothes that respect the rules and conditions of the country. In the lead up to the ITU World Champs London, one of the main defining points of whether I would get permission to race or not was down to the clothes I proposed to race in.

I presented to the sport deputy minster the sportswear I proposed to race in, to which she added the changes she saw appropriate and asked me to go to a workshop with the amended design.To put time and the urgency of the situation in context, I was sent to Merooj, the sports workshop on Saturday. I was scheduled to fly back to London on Tuesday, as the race was on Sunday.

I found myself in Merooj, a bustling workshop with phones ringing non-stop and people running up and down the stairs in a frenzy to get everything done. I explained my situation to someone in the workshop, sheepishly adding that I’ll have to have to the clothes by tomorrow or latest Monday morning. How many pieces, he asked. Just one, I replied. He unceremoniously showed me to the door.

At that moment a lady came into the room. I explained my story to her, and she called in, Dr. S, the workshop manager. Dr. S listened to my story, called in the tailor and asked him to help me out. Objecting about the timeline, Dr. S asked him to drop what he was working on to make sure I get the clothes in time. The tailor said he’ll try to get it ready by tomorrow evening. That would leave me with Monday to take the garments to the ministry for approval.

It was now Sunday afternoon. I called the workshop but they hadn’t had the chance to finish the clothes. Monday morning, I went there hoping to take the sportswear to the ministry as soon as it was finished. The clock just ticked on mercilessly, 9:00, 11:00, 13:00… my heart was starting to skip a beat by now. I ran into the sewing room and start begging, everyone was working as hard as possible, but the garment was simply not finished!!! 14:00… I just didn’t know what to do. I ran into the sewing room again, whatever you’ve done, its enough! I said. I’ll take what’s available to the ministry before they close. But we haven’t sewn the seams, or the pockets or the… I can always bring it back to you afterwards for the finishing touches! Just let me get the general form approved!

It was around 14:30 by then, I called up the ministry to say I’m on my way. They said we’re about to leave. I asked them to stay for an extra half hour so that I could get the clothes approved. They couldn’t. I still had Tuesday morning, my flight was in the afternoon. There was still hope. The most productive thing I could do was to make sure that the clothes are finished and flawless, completely ready for tomorrow, so I put the clothes on for the first time to check the fitting.

That sinking feeling as I tried to wriggle it on! It is a good 2-3 sizes too small with the sleeves and length of the top far too short, and the whole garment so tight I could barely breathe… There was no way on earth the ministry would ever approve it. I’d created such chaos in the workshop for the past two days, they’d put so much effort into this… what do I do?!!

Dr. S asked me about the clothes. I’m trying to think of a modification, something, anything that would shed some hope to the situation. I didn’t have the heart to tell the truth, but the only words that came out of my mouth were: It’s just too small. On one hand, I was now so relieved that the people at the ministry were not able to stay for another half hour – otherwise it would have been game over. But how on earth would I be able to make suitable clothes by tomorrow morning?!! ‘Mr. Youssef’, says the manager to the tailor. It may be an overnight job, but you need to help this lady out. I was speechless! I had already created so much inconvenience, – and he was still willing to go further, to help me so much!

To help is human, to care is human, but to go out of ones way to this extent, to still keep on helping despite the enormous amount he had already done, and the emotional and financial cost he’d already embraced, is pure angel. The sportswear I raced in will always remind me of the sheer emotional ride of those two days and Merooj Sport’s unshakable support to produce them for me. You really were my saviour angels.