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How to Break Barriers in Your Sport with Shirin Gerami

Renata Chlumska  - Adventure athlete who became the first Swedish and Czech woman to climb Mount Everest and in 2005 did a circumnavigate of the lower 48 States of the United States by her own power.

What if you could bring more meaning to your sport or adventure of choice? What if you could create a path for others like yourself? When you take a step outside of your comfort zone and decide to break barriers, you can create lasting change that inspires those coming after you.

In 2013, Shirin Gerami made history when she represented Iran at the triathlon world championship in London, wearing full Islamic dress. She was Iran’s first female triathlete to compete in a world championship. Despite that accomplishment, Shirin describes herself as an ordinary girl.

You can be a force for change no matter how ordinary you seem. What does it take to break barriers? Here are several ideas to inspire your journey that Shirin shared on the Tough Girl podcast.

What Do You Represent?

Shirin joined a London triathlon club for the social connections more than the competitive aspect. When the world triathlon championship came to London, club members discussed what countries they could each represent. Shirin started thinking, could she represent Iran?

After diving into research, Shirin found that Iran has a triathlon federation, but had never supported female athletes before. Instead of giving up, Shirin thought back to how participating in triathlons has improved her life.

“Triathlons make me strong, make me grow,” Shirin says. “This movement brings so much happiness, perspective, tenacity and hope. If I lived in Iran all my life, I would’ve never experienced this.”

Shirin hoped that if she could get the Iran Triathlon Federation to give her permission to represent Iran as a female athlete, other girls in Iran would be able to do the same.

Take a moment to think like Shirin. Who could you represent in your sport? What could you stand for? Thinking beyond yourself can give you greater motivation to push past obstacles and find more meaning in your activity.

How Will You Get to Yes?

What’s standing in the way of your goal? For Shirin, it was the competing requirements of the Iran Triathlon Federation and the International Triathlon Federation in charge of the world championship. Shirin went back and forth between the two organizations to find a solution to conflicting dress requirements. As the day of the world championship loomed with no agreement in sight, Shirin decided to fly to Iran and try to work things out in


The triathlon federation in Iran repeatedly refused permission because they believed there was no way Shirin could compete in a triathlon while respecting the clothing requirements set by Iran law. Shirin was determined to find a solution when the only problem at hand was clothing. “Movement and nature is so important that a flimsy piece of fabric on our skin should not determine whether we can or can't access it,” Shirin says.

Late the night before the world championship, Shirin finally got the approval she needed. “It’s the journey of sports,” Shirin shares. “It’s not giving up until you’re at the start line.”

Is there a ‘no’ that’s holding you back from your dream or idea? What if you could find a way around that no? Consider how not taking no for an answer could propel your dream forward.

How Could Perception Be Limiting Your Reality?

Even though Shirin doesn’t wear traditional coverings in her day-to-day life, she continues to do so when she races. Her goal is to show that when she is covered, she is still as strong and capable as anyone else.

When looking at the athletic attire of men versus women, Shirin saw that a woman’s identity is often determined by what she wears, while men don’t take on the same meaning. She saw how women who wore head coverings or long sleeves and pants over short sleeves and shorts were perceived differently.

“We build these beliefs and identities within us unconsciously,” Shirin notes. “I deal with that myself every day and think about all of these prejudices and assumptions I've created in my mind that are based on nothing.” Additionally, Shirin chooses to use clothing that covers herself because it supports the temperature regulation of her body and protects her skin from the elements.

Do you have any perceptions around your sport or activity that could be false and limiting? As you embark on adventure, be aware of thoughts that may not be serving yourself or those around you.

What Fears Hold You Back?

“The unknown is always scary,” Shirin says. “The need to face what you think you're incapable of is scary. The thought of the sensation of doing something you feel you can't do is scary.” In these ways, fear is just facing the narratives you’ve built for yourself.

Allow yourself to break those barriers and you’ll discover what you’re truly capable of doing. That fear may never go away, but when you know that you can move past it, your ability to face it grows stronger.

“Sports start from the inside,” Shirin advises. It’s all about the psychological choice of facing something tough or scary or uncomfortable and crumbling the identities that we assume for ourselves. When we make those changes on the inside, we can do so much more outside ourselves.

What thoughts are creating fear in your mind? How can you face those fears to prove they aren’t true? Think about writing them down to create a plan of action.

Special thanks to Shirin Gerami for coming on the Tough Girl Podcast and sharing her

incredible story. If you’d like to connect with a community of adventure-minded women,

motivated and excited to explore the outside world, join us on the Tough Girl Patreon.



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