Professional figure skater Zahra Lari is making waves as the first hijabi skater to compete internationally. Not only that, Lari is also the first hijabi woman to grace the cover of Women’s Health Magazine.
No words can describe how happy and proud I am of this one. I’m the first Hijabi on the cover of @womenshealthme #Repost @womenshealthme (@get_repost) ・・・ For the first time ever, a @womenshealthmag cover features a hijabi athlete. Meet @zahralari, the Emirati changing everything. All part of our Women in Sports issue. #mydubai #zahralari #nikeprohijab #hijabiathlete #whmhme
Lari was also in a Nike hijab pro ad along with German Boxer Zeina Nassad and United States Olympic fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad. Along with many other powerful hijab-wearing athletes, Lari is breaking barriers for Muslim women everywhere.
“I feel proud,” Lari told the New York Times, “[but] it doesn’t cross my mind what a big thing I’m doing. I’m just doing something I love.”
The Abu Dhabi University student was first inspired to skate at age 11 after watching the movie “Ice Princess.” The media has even dubbed the 22-year-old the “Ice Princess of the Desert.” She wakes up at 4:30am to train before school and then immediately after at Abu Dhabi’s only rink located at the Zayed Sports City.
Initially her father was not supportive as it was unusual for a Muslim woman to don such fitting clothes and participate in sports in a Middle Eastern country, however, he has since come around. “Now he is my biggest supporter,” Lari told CNN.
Initially, Lari faced some difficulty from judges when she performed with her hijab. The rules do not explicitly bar wearing the hijab but judges have taken off points citing the hijab as a breach of costume regulations that potentially could be dangerous on the ice. Lari has campaigned to change the rules so that it is more clear and judges have been informed to grade her on her performance and not consider the hijab a breach of regulations.
With Muslim women on the rise in the sports world, other organizations have reconsidered their clothing regulations as well. In 2014 FIFA, the international governing body of soccer lifted their ban on hijabs which they originally cited made players susceptible to injury. The International Basketball Federation also lifted its ban on headscarves this May.
Her parents are deeply involved in her career. Lari’s mother, American-born Roquiya Cochran is her manager and CEO of the Emirates Skating Club founded by Lari’s father, Fadhel. Their skating club is the first to be formally recognized by the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
“While there are many unofficial figure skating teams throughout the UAE, no others are legitimate and legally recognized by the UAE authorities,” Cochran told CNN. “We are hoping to bring these teams on board to become legitimately registered and recognized teams so that they can have all of their rights and participate in international competitions.”
Today the Emirati skater is working her way to the top. Though she didn’t make it to the 2018 Olympics, she is working towards being eligible to compete in 2022.