She is unequivocally breaking barriers. Born in the United Arab Emirates, and 22 years old, Zahra Lari is the first woman competing internationally wearing a headscarf and the first woman to do so from a Persian Gulf state.
Lari’s passion and admiration for figure skating started when she watched a Disney movie, ‘Ice Princess’, at the age of 12. Determined to make her dream into a reality, she persisted and did whatever she had to do. Even if it meant to wake up at 04:30 in the morning and practice before going to school.
Coming from a conservative Muslim country, her father did not agree with her competing and believed that it went against their culture and traditions. His decisions hindered her ability to join skating competitions throughout her teenage years. However, her father relented when he realized the inexplicable joy the sport brought her as she would watch her friends in the competitions. He then gave her permission to participate and is now her biggest supporter.
For Lari, it was quite a strenuous task to perform routines wearing a tight-fitting skating outfit. She had to find a way to harmoniously balance her modesty with the requirements of professional figure skating competitions. She now wears an opaque cloth and thick leggings in lieu of the conventional see-through fabrics worn by skaters.
Zahra Lari acknowledges that her passion stems from her belief that figure skating is both an art and a sport. She believes that it necessitates the strength of a gymnast and the flexibility and gracefulness of a ballerina. Her continuous passion is what keeps her focused on her goals whilst blocking out any negativities and obstacles that come her way.
A few of her goals include representing the UAE at the Winter Olympics, at the Four Continents Figure Skating Championships and the World Championships. Although she recently did not qualify for the 2018 Winter Olympics, because of her perseverance and zeal, Lari will eventually fulfill her goals.
Zahra Lari is unequivocally breaking barriers and she is not afraid to do so. In 2017, Nike featured her and other Middle Eastern athletes in a short inspirational film called “What will they say about you?”. The film’s powerful message was focused on going beyond barriers and boundaries.
We’ll see much more of Zahra Lari in the future. She is an incredibly empowering woman who has shown us that Muslim women are capable of accomplishing anything.