Muslim Athletes Face Individual Challenges


Sophomore Lin Hermes

Carrington Major, J-1, Guest Writer

Sophomore Lin Hermes looked at her feet as she tried to ignore her teammates’ relief

from the water break. Today marked the beginning of the Muslim holy month of fasting, a 30 day period where those observing fast from sunup to sundown. This means she’s forbidden from consuming any food product, including gum and water. The real challenge for her comes in the afternoon at her grueling, never-ending track practice. Hermes and her teammates had just finished their third rep, and the pain was stronger than ever.

She didn’t have nearly enough water this morning to hold off the lactic acid, and she could feel it setting in. First her calves tightened, then her quads burned, and finally her hamstrings felt as if they were being pulled thin. It was almost unbearable, but the support from her teammates and the vision of advancing at district got her back up on that track after each increasingly agonizing rep.

“Fasting during Ramadan does limit my performance in track. It is quite tiring running outside and working out while not being able to eat or drink from sunrise till sunset, but I remind myself that many Muslims around the world do much harder things while fasting. I feel proud of myself when I am able to balance my life with the holy month of Ramadan as it is not only the aspect of fasting but rather getting closer to God and being thankful for what we have,” said Hermes.

Since the month of fasting is also intended to be a period for Muslims to grow closer to God, other highly demanding aspects of their lives interfere with these practices. The track team requires full commitment and hours of grueling work, and Hermes, along with other Muslim athletes, are challenged with balancing it all. Most of these athletes find that something has to give: either their identity in track or their faith.

“Every person has their own limits. Most people try to work to their limits, but some people get afraid to try new things. You can try to push them by motivating them, but pain and tolerance can get to their mentality, so it’s important for everyone around them to encourage them to try and push to their own individual limit,” sophomore Sama Sahli said.

Having a good team mentality is something that Coach Kalief Mohammed, the girls track and field head coach, pushes heavily on the team. The girls are encouraged to never leave their teammates, or sisters, behind. Such encouragement is very important when it comes to particularly hard workouts, even more so when some of the girls are fasting.

“I have never felt discriminated against on the team; rather I have felt love and support. A lot of my friends know about my religion/culture, and they love asking me questions which makes me so happy to hear as not many people really know about it and can make assumptions,” Hermes said.

Like all sports at Tompkins, the track team has a specific practice and meet uniform they are required to wear. This can spark up yet another issue for these athletes during Ramadan, when many girls might focus highly on modesty. Hermes must make changers to her uniform to accommodate her religious beliefs for meets each week.

“During Ramadan I try to get more modest with my clothing and with the track uniforms being not so modest, I change up the uniform a bit. I have some baggy workout joggers and oversized shirts which I love to wear and I won’t feel the heat,” said Hermes.

Under Islam, women are encouraged to wear a hijab. Sahli recently has decided to practice wearing a hijab. Wearing an extra garment during practice is another adjustment many of these young girls have to get use to.

“Fasting and wearing the hijab may be hard to adjust to in the beginning, but as time moves on, you start loving it. It may seem crazy to think that a person can run and fast at the same time. But shockingly, it can allow you to perform better. Having other people do it with you is also wonderful,” said Sahli.

Since the majority of the track team does not observe Ramadan, Hermes has mentioned that their lack of understanding and stern efforts of encouragement has come across as inconsiderate. Last year, Hermes faced an ambivalent team when she announced that she would not be running at the district meet. The problem here may stem from a lack of understanding of what their Muslim teammates are really doing during Ramadan, as it is much more than simply not eating.

“I get that many of my teammates are just trying to help me, but it does get quite annoying. Even in normal practice days it’s hard completing workouts with access to water, so when I’m fasting and people who aren’t tell me what I should be feeling or doing, it upsets me a bit,” said Hermes.

Regardless, Hermes has been working on ignoring outside influences that may improperly guide her decisions. While there is usually overwhelming support from her teammates, there is always someone who will disagree with the decision she made for herself.

“I do plan on running meets this season. Ramadan starts in the middle of March and based on how I’m feeling and if I think I can handle it, I will definitely run while fasting. I’m not too worried about what people will think about me for my decisions, as I would be living to please them instead of pleasing my creator and putting myself first. Ramadan is not only about fasting; it’s about praying, spending time with family, and many other things. With meets being long and at night, it takes away a lot of those things for me, and so I do put those into heavy consideration as well,” Hermes said.

Muslim athletes encounter many challenges that ultimately make them stronger. Hermes and Sahli tackle their demanding lifestyles all while bringing others up around them. On the track, they show that their religion is not a setback, but a beautiful opportunity to rise above the rest.