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After Harrowing Escape, Afghanistan’s First Female Triathlete Now Safe in the U.S.

With thousands trying to flee the country as the Taliban seized control of the capital, a small group of female Afghan triathletes were able to make their way to safety.

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The first Afghan woman to finish an Ironman-branded event, Zeinab*, is safe and accounted for after escaping a Taliban takeover in her home country. The triathlete’s harrowing escape to the U.S. was made possible in part through the assistance of connections made through her training group, She Can Tri—a group we first covered back in April.

Zeinab was already scheduled to depart Afghanistan for the U.S. on Aug. 15 to begin a one-year stint as a Fulbright scholar, a prestigious global-exchange program that enables graduate students, young professionals, and artists to conduct research and to study in other countries. Her plans were suddenly disrupted, however, by news that the Taliban was seizing power in Afghanistan, with fighters entering the presidential palace as U.S. forces departed the country. Thousands have been trying to flee in the last week, leaving Zeinab’s ability to get to the airport in Kabul, much less depart the country, in question.

Zeinab used the messaging app WhatsApp to contact She Can Tri founder, Jackie Faye, an American who resides in Austin, Texas, for assistance. Commercial flights were canceled in Afghanistan and no taxis were willing to even take her to the airport. Faye encouraged her to go to the airport anyway, and reached out to the uncle of a She Can Tri participant, who agreed to drive her through Taliban checkpoints. Meanwhile, Faye also went to work securing Zeinab’s spot on a flight out of the country.

In an update written on the She Can Tri website, Faye recounted how she was able to get through to an Italian special forces operator at the Kabul Airport. The officer agreed to help Zeinab make it through the crowds surrounding the airport. By sheer luck, she was then able to get on a chartered plane for Turkish diplomats and Afghan government officials, and eventually arrived safely at Denver International Airport on Aug. 16.

The three remaining members of the She Can Tri group left Afghanistan prior to the Taliban takeover: Zahra, who is also a Fulbright Scholar, is in the U.S.; Kubra is in Canada; Tahira is in Germany. However, multiple staff members remain in the country.

“We are worried about our She Can Tri staff in Afghanistan at this time,” Faye told us. “We had already applied for P2 visas for She Can Tri’s staff on Aug. 5, and are working now to get them out.”

In addition to helping Afghans find safety, She Can Tri is also working to get several Afghan refugees settled once they arrive in their new homes. Those who wish to support these efforts can donate to the organization.

RELATED: Club Hub: She Can Tri is Empowering Women in Afghanistan

*For safety reasons, only first names have been used to identify the Afghan women in this story.