It was only just two months ago when Suhan Mohamed and Nimo Gohe first learned how to swim, and now the two Somali-American teens are making history by becoming the first Muslim girls to join their high school swim team in St Cloud, Minnesota. “I don’t think they understand what barriers they’re breaking down in the community,” says Apollo High School swim team coach, Alex Badger.
Mohamed and Gohe say they have felt nothing but support by their peers and coaches at Apollo High, who encouraged them to become trailblazers. “They didn’t make us feel like we didn’t know anything,” Mohamed, 18. “They were so nice to us.”
In recent years, Activities Director Dave Langerud has met with Muslim parents to encourage their daughters to join sport teams and as a result, some students have taken up soccer and track. As the new swimming coach, Ms. Badger set a specific goal to recruit girls who may have never considered swimming. Mohamed and Gohe joined a swimming team with mostly white students who had been swimming for years. “I didn’t see other Somali kids who swam,” remarks Mohamed. “I was just excited to start.”
To accommodate the girl’s Muslim faith, Ms. Badger found black burkinis and full-body swimsuits, and received a rare waiver from the Minnesota State High School league which allowed the girl’s to compete. When Mohamed and Gohe showed up for practice one day, to their surprise, they saw the rest of the team had traded in their usual red bathing suits for modest black suits. “They’re putting themselves out there and setting an example for other girls,” team captain Rachel Warner comments. “And it takes so much courage.”
Though the girls haven’t won any races (yet), the team already considers them winners and role models. Mr. Langerud says he is amazed by what Mohamed and Gohe have already accomplished. “They’re going to be the biggest advocates for other kids. They’re going to change the world.”