At around mile 10 of the bike leg on her first sprint triathlon, Khadijah Diggs began to question her choices. More specifically, her choice of bike—an $89 fixed gear, or “fixie,” purchased at Walmart the week before the race. “Needing gears never crossed my mind,” Diggs laughed. “I had trained for the race on a spin bike in my basement and hadn’t ridden a bike in years.”
Still, she managed to race on and over the hills of Lake Lanier, Georgia, at the Iron Girl triathlon, on her fixie, making her way to transition and then to the run. Though Diggs had been a track and field athlete in college, she struggled on the rolling run course—to this day, she jokes the course was “uphill both ways”—but when she crossed the finish line, she didn’t feel tired; she felt invigorated.
“I felt such a sense of accomplishment just finishing,” she said. “It was challenging and it was fun. As soon as I got home, I Googled triathlon races in Georgia and signed up for three more.”
Three races turned into dozens more (plus a sweet bike upgrade), and Diggs soon found herself recruiting her friends to join the fun. Though she didn’t set out to be an ambassador of any sort, Diggs noticed she was often approached by people at races who were curious about the clothing she wears on the course. Diggs, a practicing Muslim, races in hijab, covered by a headscarf with only her hands and face visible. Hijab is an Islamic concept of modesty and privacy practiced by many, though not all, Muslim women—often for varying reasons.
It’s all about creating a space for Muslim women and women of color to thrive by giving them what they need to feel confident in multisport.
“I was really surprised by the number of people [at races] who had never met a Muslim, never spoken to a Muslim woman,” Diggs said. “After becoming a part of the local tri community in Atlanta, I was excited that people felt comfortable enough with me as a person to ask questions about Islam, not trying to change religions but just curious. I loved the fact that people began to recognize me as a competitor who just happens to be Muslim.”
Wearing a headscarf and loose-fitting clothing runs counter to triathlon culture, where skin-tight race kits are the norm and no one bats an eye at an athlete running in a swimsuit or Speedo. This can give potential triathletes the impression that triathlon is not a welcoming space for hijabi Muslim women—an impression Diggs is trying to change. Earlier this year, she founded the Diversity Infusion Syndicate by Khadijah (or D.I.S.K.), an initiative to support women of color and Muslim women to be successful multisport athletes. In addition to advocating for more inclusive rules and guidelines—such as a listing of USAT-approved full-body tri suits allowed in non-wetsuit swims, D.I.S.K. provides participants with coaching and mentoring for a successful first triathlon. The program also includes elements of advocacy and service, which Diggs hopes will empower athletes to become agents of change in multisport and the world at large.
“It’s all about creating a space for Muslim women and women of color to thrive by giving them what they need to feel confident in multisport, and to carry that same confidence into all they do in life and their communities,” Diggs said. As the first hijabi Muslim woman to represent Team USA in triathlon, competing at the age-group world championships in 2017 and 2018, she’s setting a standard for others to follow. She also hopes her work one day leads to greater representation at all levels of triathlon.
“Ultimately, I would love to live to see a hijabi win an Olympic medal in the sport I love.”