- Noor Abukaram was disqualified from a high school cross country competition in 2019 for wearing a hijab.
- Since then, she has fought against discrimination in sport and will run her first marathon in New York.
- Abukaram will run in bright colors and his hijab to show that “everyone is a runner”.
In October 2019, Noor Abukaram felt “on top of the world”.
The 16-year-old varsity cross-country athlete had just set a personal best in an invitational 5K and was planning to celebrate with friends. Then, her heart sank: Abukaram’s name was missing from the official list of places because, she soon learned, she was wearing a hijab.
Unbeknownst to the then 16-year-old Abukaram, her state’s athletic association required waivers from athletes who wished to wear clothing for religious practices. His trainer had failed to provide one.
“I was humiliated. I needed to escape,” Abukaram wrote for ESPN earlier this year. “So I went to the bathroom, like I think any girl does when she’s going to cry.”
But Abukaram’s instinct for escape was short-lived. She has since become a strong advocate for runners of all identities as the founder of Let Noor Run, which fights discrimination in sport. In October 2021, her work helped change Ohio law that disqualified her.
On Sunday, Abukaram will run the New York City Marathon – his longest race to date – as a member of Team Inspire in bright colors and a hijab. Now she wants to be seen.
“Diversity belongs to running, and inclusion belongs to running because it’s such a beautiful sport that anyone can play,” Abukaram, now a 19-year-old sophomore at the University, told Insider. Ohio State University. “For me, I feel like everyone is a runner.”
Meet another female running icon
Before training for the marathon, Abukaram’s longest run was 10 miles in high school. And it was a struggle. “I remember me and my teammates, like, I cried about it,” she said.
But she was inspired to train for New York, with her parents, after racing the MasterCard Mini 10K in New York in June with her mother. The race was started in 1972, the first year women were legally allowed to run the Boston Marathon, and is iconic of women’s running.
This summer’s event marked the 50th anniversary of the race and Title IV, which prohibits gender discrimination in activities like school sports. “I crossed the finish line and thought, ‘I can’t wait to run another race like this and in a city like New York,'” Abukaram said.
After the race, Abukaram met Mini 10K co-founder Katherine Switzer, who was the first woman to run the Boston Marathon in 1967 – only after notoriously fending off a race official along the way.
Talking to Switzer, now 75, about running in New York was “a magical experience,” Abukaram said. “I was like, ‘Man, I want to be like this.'”
Since then, Abukaram’s training has grown. By mid-October, she had worked up to 20 consecutive miles.
“I started to feel this energy of running towards something, rather than just running to run,” she said. “That’s why this whole experience has been so uplifting in terms of personal growth: I finally find this love, this desire to run.”
Experimenting with Athletic Hijabs
For Abukaram, training also involved experimenting with athletic hijabs the same way other athletes experiment with diet and hydration.
Over the summer, Abukaram learned the hard way that lightweight hijabs were essential. “Sometimes my sports hijabs will be dirty, then I’ll have to run in a regular hijab and I’ll feel like I’m suffocating,” she said.
As a fashion student, she also learned that certain fabrics, like nylon blends, aren’t for her and everyone’s preferences are different. “I’m a big believer in looking good, playing well,” Abukaram said.
That’s why she’s grateful that more brands are making modest sportswear, although there still needs to be more exposure for hijabs in sports, she said. She is doing her part by enabling people to donate a sports hijab to young Muslim athletes in need through Let Noor Run.
“I just want to show other young Muslim athletes that they are not alone and that we are part of their team,” she said.
To do this – and inspire others, Muslims or not – Abukaram plans to wear something shiny on Marathon Sunday.
“Whenever I do something where I feel like I’m representing Islam, I like to wear lots of colors to feel like I’m the most confident, approachable, and feel my best. my shape,” she said. “I feel like I can also unintentionally influence the mood of people around me just by wearing bright colors.”
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