Zahra Arabzada attends Hobart and William Smith Colleges where she majors in biochemistry. Recently, the 21 year old has finished a marathon and half-marathons as well as a 50-mile mega-marathon. She runs five to six times a week, and is the author of The Hijabi Runner blog. All this is no small accomplishment for anyone, but especially for a female athlete born and raised in conservative ares of the Middle East, Ms. Arabzada has broken through many a stereotype — and quicker than most;).
In this op-ed for Health, Ms. Arabzada talks about the importance of running. Born in a refugee camp in Iran, she moved with her family at age eight to Kunduz, an ultra conservative province in Afghanistan. Though her parents were uneducated, they wanted better for their daughter, and she would go on to study at a female boarding school in Kabul and eventually, she made her way to the states where she received a scholarship to study in Rhode Island. It was there that she first got the bug to run.
As she recounts: “I was feeling homesick when the cross-country coach encouraged me to start running with the team. At first, I didn’t want to. I’m Hijabi, meaning I choose to cover my hair like I always had growing up. I knew I’d look different. My coach wouldn’t take that as an excuse. The next thing I knew, I was picking out a pair of running shoes. I discovered I loved running. Each practice felt like a small victory that gave me confidence for the rest of the day. Still, when I first began running in my hijab, a lot of people looked at me with raised eyebrows.”