This inspiring story about the love of two brothers had NBA superstar LeBron James on the verge of tears, as you’ll see in the video. Very emotional and so good in so many ways.
Conner and Cayden make up Team Long Brothers and were recently named Sports Illustrated’s 2012 SportsKids of the Year. Cayden, 5, is diagnosed with spastic cerebral palsy and can’t speak or walk on his own. But, in the summer of 2011, Conner, who was seven at the time, decided to compete in the Nashville Kids Triathlon, pulling his younger brother behind him.
They finished together, in last place, but in the process became role models of what is possible and the power of love. When I think about this family, I think of Andrew Solomon’s phrase of “horizontal identities” and what we would miss as people and a community if we didn’t encounter these special people in our daily lives. It’s Conner who says it best:
“The one thing that makes me really made is when people walk down the road and say… the ‘r’ word, if you now what that is. I just tell them that like it doesn’t matter what it looks like on the outside, it matters what’s on the inside. He still has regular feelings like we do. And he understands what you say about him.
If people could race with people that can’t walk or talk or can have any kind of autism, it might open eyes of people that don’t really care about it. And, maybe, the people that don’t care in the past will care in the future and actually do it with somebody.”
Muslim Sportswomen on the Rise
by Marium Sattar, guest conributor
At the first ceremony of its kind, fencer and Olympic hopeful Ibtihaj Muhammad was recognized for her achievements as a Muslim sportswoman at the Ambassador Awards. The awards were hosted by the Muslim Women’s Sport Foundation the first week of May to recognize Muslim women in this field. They are a reminder that Muslim sportswomen have broken new ground in the world of sports and helped change perceptions in society at large.
Although there are more Muslim women competing in sports today than there have been in the past, they have an overlooked legacy. For example, Halet Çambel was the first Muslim woman who competed in the Olympics — and did so in 1936, representing Turkey. Many athletes like her were honored at the awards where Muhammad won the International Sportswoman of the Year. However, women’s sports participation in some countries is still limited.
One challenge some Muslim sportswomen have contended with is regulations about athletic dress codes — but they have also paved the way for other players who want to dress modestly while still competing in the games they love. In 2007, for example, the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) placed a ban on wearing the hijab, or headscarf, during matches due to fears that it could lead to choking. The ban even led to the Iranian women’s football team being deemed ineligible from a qualifying match to play in the Olympics; however, this year, FIFA is planning to overturn that rule in light of new hijabs designed specifically for athletes. The decision will be announced on July 2 after further testing of the new hijabs to ensure their safety.
Muhammad says that her faith, which requires women to dress modestly, directed her choice to start fencing, a sport which requires players to cover themselves from head to toe. “Often times, when I’m in competition, I’m the only African American, the only black person, definitely the only Muslim — not only representing the United States but in the competition itself. It can be really difficult…” she said.
Given their diversity, Muslim sportswomen are an inspiration to young women around the world. Yet some young women from Muslim backgrounds still face challenges overcoming cultural restrictions either because their parents believe girls should not become athletes or perhaps simply because they do not have role models. However, these restrictions did not stop Pakistani runner Naseem Hameed, who won the gold medal for her performance at the 100-metre race at the South Asian Games in 2010, making her the fastest woman in South Asia.
As more athletes like Hameed come into the limelight, young women watching them may start to have higher expectations about what they can achieve, especially in sports.
Other Muslim sportswomen have contended with much bigger hurdles. Sadaf Rahimi, a 17-year-old boxer from Afghanistan, is one Ambassador Award nominee who overcame the lack of facilities to practice in and the difficulties of living under the Taliban — which banned women from playing sports. Rahimi, who will be representing Afghanistan in the London 2012 Olympics, shatters stereotypes about Afghan women. Like her peers, she counteracts the misconception that Muslim women cannot play sports, while demonstrating that perseverance can overcome even the toughest hurdles.
In another part of the Muslim world, Qatar recently announced that it will send female athletes to the Olympics for the first time. Brunei has also nominated a female hurdler and 400-metre runner, Maziah Mahusin, to join their Olympic team for the first time. Their participation in sports heralds a new era, one which is more inclusive of all women, and shows that governments are following where women are leading.
Many athletes at the Ambassador Awards said they never expected to excel as they have — a reality that shows young women that they are capable of achieving more than they may think is possible.
At the event, Muhammad reflected on how much her faith and sports have shaped her identity. “I would never have guessed in a million years that my hijab would have led me to fencing, to a sport, but also that I would have grown to love this sport so much. It’s so much a part of who I am; I can’t even imagine life without it.”
Marium Sattar is a multimedia and print journalist, and a recent graduate of the Columbia Journalism School in New York City.
A version of this article was published by the Common Ground News Service on May 22, 2012. Copyright permission is granted for publication.
Running with the Dalai Lama
by Chris Miller, guest contributor
“Action” (photo: Alessandro Pautasso/Flickr, cc by-nc-nd 2.0)
Most people listen to songs like “Eye of the Tiger” or the theme from Chariots of Fire when running. I am not most people. I prefer a good old-fashion podcast.
A few days ago I was listening to the interfaith forum “Pursuing Happiness” while out on a five-miler. Around mile three, something amazing happened. Maybe it was the noise of the traffic or the use of a translator, but I lost track of who was speaking. Instead of rewinding, I went along with it and, before long, I was amen-ing each answer without knowing who gave it.
There was a time in my past when this type of thing would have been unheard of. I grew up Southern Baptist. My amens were reserved for fellow brethren. If one was not a hymn-singing, Bible-thumping, submerging-baptizer, then one was not worthy of my praise. I was taught truth had to come from the “correct” source. Otherwise, it was heresy. Yet there I was, hearing truth from a Muslim scholar, an Orthodox rabbi, an Episcopalian bishop, and the Dalai Lama himself.
How was that possible? Maybe it was the lack of oxygen or the sweat in my eyes, but I had a realization. Truth is truth. Some thinkers take this even a bit further, saying, “All truth is God’s truth.” I’m beginning to agree.
God is big enough to reveal himself as he chooses. I have heard and seen God in print, in music, and in film — from both Christian and non-Christian sources. I have heard preachers and atheists teach powerful spiritual truths. I have seen God dwelling amongst the dirtiest of slums and the most decorated of sanctuaries. He is heard and seen however and wherever He chooses to make Himself known.
When Moses first encountered God, he demanded a name. But instead of giving him a name, God replied, “I am who I am” or “I will be who I will be.” He refuses to be labeled. When one labels God, when one claims him as their own, they reduce him to an image of their liking. They limit him. They only let him speak through the voices they have approved.
Of course, God cannot be limited. “Pursuing Happiness” was proof of that. He spoke through each individual on the stage, whether they labeled him Yahweh, Allah, or something else. He made himself known.
As I finished my run, I realized it was not only my legs that got a workout. My mind, my heart, and my soul were also pushed. In the course of those five miles, I was exposed to truth — God’s truth — by individuals very different from me. Who would have thought the Dalai Lama could make such a great running partner?
Chris Miller is a seminary student living in Merriam, Kansas. You can read more of his writing at Caffeinated Ramblings.
We welcome your original reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on this blog. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.
Transgender Male Athlete Plays for NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Team: From Kay-Kay to Kye
by Nancy Rosenbaum, producer
George Washington University point guard Kye Allums recently made headlines as the first known transgender student to play NCAA Division I college basketball. At a press conference held last month, Allums announced: “I am a transgender male, which means feelings-wise, how it feels on the inside, I feel as if I should have been born male with male parts. But my biological sex is female, which makes me a transgender male.”
Allums’ teammates and coach now use the pronoun “he” when referring to Kye (who was born Kay-Kay). Allums, who is a junior, will continue to play on the women’s team. To comply with NCAA guidelines and retain his athletic scholarship, Allums is postponing hormone treatments until after his college basketball career is over.
A profile of Allums in Outsports describes his attempts to try on identities that ultimately didn’t fit the truth of who he experienced himself to be. In high school this meant affiliating as a lesbian, but over time this didn’t feel right. During his freshman year in college his mother sent him an angry text that read: “Who do you think you are, young lady?” All of a sudden, Allums’ awakening as a transgender male began to crystallize.
Allums’ story gets at topics and voices we’ve long been interested in: the spirituality of body image and the lived experience of being transgender. It also raises a flurry of questions about equity, fairness, and where transgender athletes fit into the larger landscape of competitive sports.
When Allums came out as transgender, his coach Mike Bozeman asked him if he thought God had made a mistake. As Allums remembers it, Bozeman followed up with words of support saying, “I’ve had your back through everything. Our relationship has grown from nothing to this, and now you think I’d just turn my back on you because you told me this? No. I love you and I’ll always be here for you.”
In the end, Allums concluded that God hadn’t made a mistake. “I was meant to be like this for a reason. Clearly my life is going to be different from anyone who was born a biological male, because of what I’ve been through. And I was meant to go through all of this.”
Bahrain Women Educate WNBA’s Mistie Bass
Nancy Rosenbaum, associate producer
“They were used to being coached by men who tended to discourage them. But I saw nothing but tremendous potential, and I tried to nourish it. I made it clear that I was invested in the team’s improvement, and the players made it clear that they were serious as well. … Coaching them really drove home the point that if you give with no intent to receive, you will get so much more in return.”
Bass goes on to say how she transcended her own preconceptions about Islam through the real relationships she developed with her players. Her essay reminds me that sports can be a powerful way to forge bonds despite differences in language, culture, and religion.
We’ve been talking as a production staff about the meaning and purpose people find through sports — whether they’re athletes or fans or both. With the World Cup fast approaching, we’re wondering about the significance of sports in your own life. Is there a spiritual dimension to sports for you? What ideas do you have about how SOF could open up a conversation about this topic?
(photo: Mistie Bass/Chicago Sky)
It wasn’t about doing the right thing. It’s just me as an athlete — I feel like we all compete and train for four years to get to the Olympic Games. We got there, he was told he finished second after all that, he took a victory lap. I can understand his humiliation and embarrassment and all that. Me being an athlete, I know how he feels, so I feel like it was to me to give it up to him.
—Olympian Shawn Crawford
In a display of sportsmanship, the U.S. sprinter gave his Olympic silver medal to Churandy Martina, who finished ahead of Crawford in the 200-meter event but was disqualified for running outside of his lane.
Trent Gilliss, Online Editor
Winning without the Juice
Trent Gilliss, Online Editor
I’ll admit it. I have a love-hate relationship with sports. I spent most of my high school and college years training. Wrestling ruined me; wrestling saved me. I have a soft spot for the power of sport forging relationships and understanding in ways that no other brokered therapy session ever can.
Brushing aside the Roger Clemens hearings, I happened upon this New York Times video report and charming slide show about Shamila Kohestani, once captain of the Afghanistan national women’s soccer team who is now attending a private high school in New Jersey on a soccer scholarship. She’s trying to catch up in her schooling to prepare for college. And she’s playing competitive basketball for the first time — an observant Muslim in long sleeves and leggings. What a great lesson in modesty and fortitude, compassion and graciousness for her teammates.
For me, this story evokes a particular memory of a former teammate, Dean Mielke. Affectionately called MilkDud, he was the only one of 13 ranked wrestlers who had a losing record at the time — zero wins and 18 losses, all of them by pin. For six continuous months, four hours per day, he got pummeled on — even by the lighter weights.
But he stayed. He didn’t quit. And eventually he endeared himself to everybody, ergo the nickname. Once, in a tight team dual, we needed him not to get pinned and give up six team points. “You’re a wraaaccckin’ machine,” we told him. “Don’t get pinned. Fight off your back no matter what.”
He spent almost six full minutes with his shoulders levitated centimeters from the mat with
his his mouth covered by his opponents’ armpit and chin in his ribs. At the final buzzer, he jumped up, arms in the air, and a huge grin on his face. He was defeated by 13 points, and he was proud of himself.
When I think back to that season and all the championships and victories, I only remember one thing: MilkDud’s victory. Yeah, I’m misty writing about it, and that’s why I tear up every time a team comes together in a movie or an athlete prevails during the Olympics.
Thanks, Dean, for the lesson. I’m a better father for it. Shamila’s teammates will be the better for knowing her too.