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‘It makes me feel like possibilities are endless’: Meet the Muslim women parkour athletes taking up space

In the anthology “It’s Not About The Burqa,” editor Mariam Khan highlights the significance of centering Muslim women on this dialogue, writing that they are “greater than burqas, greater than hijabs, and greater than society has allowed us to be till now.”

“We are not asking for permission any extra. We are taking up space.”

As Muslim women discover themselves marginalized by society, Khan speaks to the method that they need to forge their very own narratives and create visibility in areas that weren’t constructed for them.

That’s precisely what parkour athlete Sara Mudallal is doing.

By working towards the sport, Mudallal hopes she will encourage extra women to enter what she describes as a “male dominated” discipline.

“It’s form of intimidating for women to typically are available and hang around and issues like that. But now, not too long ago, extra women have been displaying up, so it has been extra comfy for women to return in and apply,” 26-year-old Mudallal tells CNN Sport.

“It begins with one and it’s important to stand up for that, and then you definitely carry extra individuals in.”

In most of the parkour jams she attends — the place parkour practitioners congregate and practice collectively — she says she’s usually the solely hijabi athlete.

“I nonetheless am like the solely one who wears the hijab, in fact […] we nonetheless have an extended technique to go along with that for women to feel assured in themselves,” she says.

Standing out from the crowd

Having grown up playing sports, Los Angeles native Sara Mudallal began practicing parkour when she was 20.

But Mudallal is used to standing out.

She grew up in Los Angeles, the place she was athlete of the yr in highschool — and garnered the similar title in center faculty three years in a row.

“I’m very well-rounded. Like I can play soccer, I can play basketball, I can play soccer. I can play tennis. Except golf — I do not know find out how to play golf,” she muses.

When she was 12, her mom enrolled her in karate courses, the place she went on to earn a primary and second diploma black belt.

At the starting of 2015, Mudallal determined to begin sporting a scarf. That similar yr, a pal launched her to parkour.

Having gained important decrease physique energy and core steadiness from karate, she says she was constructed for the sport.

“My legs have been already fairly robust,” Mudallal says. “In phrases of taking a nasty touchdown … I used to be secure.”

“I’ve all the time cherished climbing and leaping on issues and did not actually know that was a sport, did not actually comprehend it was a way.”

As a newbie, Mudallal says she was welcomed into the parkour and freerunning neighborhood with open arms.

“I don’t feel that individuals didn’t need me in the group,” she says. “I did not give them that likelihood to make me feel that method. It’s about character, it is about how robust you are. If you are shy doing something due to what you are sporting, it’s important to test your self with that, then why are you sporting it, ?

“I did not actually care, if I used to be sporting or not sporting [a headscarf], my pursuits are nonetheless the similar. And I actually needed to do parkour, so I went in no matter what I look like on the exterior.”

‘It’s even more durable for the women’

While sport has all the time given Mudallal the space to precise herself, Iranian parkour coach and former nationwide gymnast Fatemeh Akrami has recollections of feeling hampered as a younger athlete.

Growing up as a shy little one, Akrami’s mom signed her up for native gymnastics courses when she was six, in the hopes of bringing her out of her shell.

“I used to be a brilliant shy woman, I did not even say hello to strangers. I used to be hiding behind my mom’s again as a result of I used to be so shy,” the 27-year-old Tehran native tells CNN Sport.

Despite her preliminary apprehension, Akrami shortly excelled. She says she received her first medal at a nationwide competitors when she was 12 and joined the nationwide crew a yr later. Akrami went on to clinch two gold medals and one silver at the Islamic Solidarity Games in Iran in 2007.

But whereas Akrami was having fun with success in the highlight, she was struggling behind the scenes.

She says that as a consequence of worldwide gymnastics dress code rules at the time, she wasn’t in a position to compete on a worldwide stage in accordance with Iran’s mandatory hijab law, which was enacted by the Islamic Republic in 1983.

Since the Islamic Revolution in 1979, the nation hasn’t dispatched a single feminine athlete to take part in the Olympics in swimming, wrestling or gymnastics — together with at this yr’s Tokyo Games.

Fatemeh Akrami says that due to international gymnastics dress code rules at the time, she wasn't able to compete on a global stage in accordance with Iran's mandatory hijab law, which was enacted by the Islamic Republic in 1983.

“It’s even more durable for the women in Iran,” Akrami says. “You practice like an Olympian, however you by no means get there, so it is arduous to maintain your self motivated.”

“I believe like in ten years I did not attend a funeral, a marriage, a party, none of them,” she provides.

Dealing with the strain of competing in any excessive depth sport is difficult, however Akrami says that juggling the calls for of coaching whereas attending faculty was doubly exhausting.

“Gymnastics is a really arduous sport. You should put loads of effort as a result of it’s important to be mentally and bodily ready to be in a aggressive degree,” she says. “We have been experiencing loads of strain.”

“In the weekdays, I used to go to high school from 7:00 a.m. till 1p.m. And then from the faculty, my mom used to select me up after which [go] straight to the fitness center till 10:00 p.m,” she provides. “So in the Friday, which was the weekend […] there was no relaxation. So we needed to practice from 9:00 in the morning till 9:00 in the night.

“Training arduous provides you psychological strain since you get drained, you’ve gotten faculty, you’ve gotten homework, you’ve gotten coaching. Like typically, the coaching do not go nicely, you do not get the talent proper. It takes too lengthy, typically you get injured.

“I do not keep in mind sleeping at evening with out having ache.”

A philosophy of freedom

After Akrami left her profession as an expert gymnast at the age of 18, she was searching for a contemporary begin.

She had simply begun college, when one among her friends inspired her to check out parkour.

“It was like, ‘OK, what’s subsequent?,'” Akrami says. “I all the time wanted one thing extra as a result of gymnastics is a really thrilling sport and […] day by day you want the adrenaline rush.

“He stopped in a park and instructed me, ‘Do you need to attempt a few of the parkour expertise?’ And I used to be like, ‘Yeah, let’s give it a attempt. I believe in the first thirty minutes, I bought 5 or 6 […] expertise of parkour, and I actually was tremendous, tremendous stunned.”

While Akrami used to feel restricted by gymnastics, she says parkour provides her “self-confidence.”

“In gymnastics, every part is so disciplined, it’s important to do every part simply as they are saying. No extra, no much less. But in parkour, you are able to do any transfer along with your physique,” she says. “The philosophy of parkour is all about the freedom.”

“You can do parkour wherever you need, everytime you need and with any costume you need. Like there is no costume code. I can compete in a contest with my Islamic costume and that is positive.

“And you are able to do all the expertise with your individual physique, with your individual fashion, so it provides you loads of selections. That’s the feeling of freedom that parkour provides.”

Mudallal provides, “What’s cool about parkour is that each single particular person strikes otherwise.”

“It makes me feel free. It makes me feel like possibilities are countless, and I can do something,” Mudallal says. “I fell in love with it as quickly as I began.”

Akrami says that practicing parkour gives her a "feeling of freedom."

Shattering stereotypes of stereotypes

Since Mudallal began working towards parkour, she has gone from energy to energy.

Since posting movies of her freerunning adventures on social media, she has amassed over 35,000 followers.

In July 2021, she attended the Red Bull Art of Motion competitors in Greece — extensively thought-about one among the highest-profile freerunning occasions in the sport.

“It’s like for the first time, I felt like, ‘Oh, my God, like that is destiny.’ Like that is being handed to me on a platter and I’m not going to say no to transferring ahead,” Mudallal says.

“I simply determined to, like, transfer ahead with it and apply extra and take it severely extra, however take it severely in a method the place I might nonetheless find it irresistible and never be dragged to go do parkour as a result of it is like my job. No, I need to do it as a result of I really like doing it,” she provides.

In 2018, Mudallal additionally turned the first hijabi athlete to seem on the assault course TV present American Ninja Warrior.

“It was undoubtedly one thing,” she says. “First time experiencing a recreation present […] understanding how TV and Hollywood […] how all that works.”

“In phrases of the hijab facet, sure, that is like my title. I’m the first hijabi to go on American Ninja Warrior, nevertheless it’s like I used to be actually strolling like another particular person,” she provides. “They talked about it on TV, nevertheless it wasn’t very centered on that.”

Even although Mudallal is finest recognized for being a hijabi parkour athlete, she says that being recognized by a singular label can feel reductive.

“It’s a title I’ve had for a really very long time. And transferring ahead, I do not need to be solely often called that as a result of anyone may very well be a hijabi parkour athlete, however are they good at what they’re doing?” she says. “I need to present I’m undoubtedly greater than that.

“It’s not up to those who put on hijab who play these sports activities to interrupt them [stereotypes]. But it is good to construct that consciousness that, ‘Hey, sit down, , like, cease creating that stereotype.’

“I hope someday […] individuals will see me previous the hijab.”

Even though Mudallal is best known for being a hijabi parkour athlete, she hopes people will see "past the hijab."

‘Don’t let something cease you’

Mudallal says that for some Muslim women, making the resolution to step exterior one’s consolation zone might be met with hostility from individuals each inside and outdoors their neighborhood.

Six years into her parkour journey, she says she nonetheless receives essential feedback from individuals on social media.

“In phrases of what individuals say, I’m very previous that, very previous that. Because think about if, like, I did cease parkour, I did pay attention [to] what individuals say — I’m the one who’s going to be depressing, like they’re simply going to maintain transferring on with their life,” Mudallal says.

“My phrase of recommendation to everybody who desires to maneuver ahead with that is cease asking, ‘Should I transfer ahead?’ Do it. It’s a easy factor to say, nevertheless it’s a tough factor to do.

“Everyone else goes to maneuver ahead, however somebody’s all the time going to be stopping you for some cause. So it’s important to transfer previous that. You should recover from that wall.”

Akrami’s message to younger Muslim women? “Don’t let something cease you.”

“Go for it. Try and you are going to accomplish it. I settle for the indisputable fact that it may be more durable a bit of bit, nevertheless it’s not inconceivable.”

Luckily, each athletes can fall again on the help of their households.

Mudallal says, “What I’ve observed is […] typically by way of tradition, it is like Arab fathers are very restrictive of what they need their daughters doing. And what’s totally different about my father is that as a result of I’m the oldest little one, he was all the time, ‘Sara, you are going to develop up and you are going to be impartial, you are going to develop your individual enterprise, , you are going to make your individual cash.’

“My mother is the similar factor, , ‘You bought to be robust, bought to place your foot down, be assured.’ From the place I’m at present, they’re simply all the time, all the time, all the time supporting me.”

Reminiscing about her gymnastics profession, Akrami says she “gave up so many occasions.”

“We by no means have been a really wealthy household, however they gave me all I wanted, all I needed […] financially, mentally, […] in order that was why I may stand all the strain,” she provides. “They are tremendous pleased with the place I’m at present.”

Endless possibilities

Mudallal says that by sharing her story, she wants to encourage more girls to pursue parkour.

Mudallal hopes that by sharing her story, she will encourage individuals to understand the depth and nuance of her journey and create space for extra younger Muslim women to step into the parkour business.

“I hope to see extra women like me pursue it,” she says. “The significance of me doing parkour. It’s simply an expression of […] what I preach, of my motion. What I’ve grown, what I’ve taken in, what I’m displaying out.

“Parkour continues to be pretty a male dominated sport. And for women basically, they are growing for positive, yr by yr and […] truly making an announcement.”

Akrami additionally hopes to see extra women freerunning, which is why she turned a parkour coach when she was about 20.

“I used to be like, ‘OK, there are so many ladies they usually are so enthusiastic about parkour. You have to show them what ,'” Akrami says.

So far, she says she’s taught 100 women find out how to parkour and given licensed coaching to about 50 extra to grow to be parkour coaches themselves.

“When they get this talent, it provides me a greater feeling than once I do the talent,” Akrami says. “Because once they feel issues, once they feel the pleasure, once they get excited, like, ‘OK, I bought the expertise,’ they’re screaming and working.”

By sharing her data, she hopes she will educate her college students life expertise, resembling resilience and willpower.

“I’m actually completely happy to allow them to [students] know, a minimum of, that they will do that. So lots of them are like, ‘No, we can not practice. It is inconceivable to coach in Iran, to coach parkour in Iran.’ At least they notice that it is doable, you simply have not bought there. But it is doable,” Akrami says.

“It’s superb how whenever you begin doing parkour, it provides you the imaginative and prescient that nothing is as arduous because it seems, even in life,” she provides. “When you attempt it, whenever you succeed and also you are like, ‘Wow, did I actually do this? Did I actually soar that far?’ Yes, you probably did it. It was wanting tremendous arduous […] however you by no means know until you attempt it.”

Ultimately, parkour is rooted in a counterculture that offers individuals who might be sidelined by society a technique to middle their tales and make themselves as seen as doable.

Like Mudallal, Akrami shares her movies of her parkour tips on-line to “let different individuals in the different nations and different continents of the Earth, to allow them to know that we exist.”

“It’s like quite common, and it is a very attention-grabbing sport that so many ladies are so passionate to begin and to do. And yeah, we exist, we practice parkour, and parkour has no limits and has no borders.”

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