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As much as we applaud the Julies, the Paulas, the Chrissies, the Gwens, the Danielas, and the Floras of triathlon—those who have raised the bar for women’s performances in the sport worldwide—there are other trailblazers in triathlon who stand out in different ways. These women’s times may not be the fastest, but they have turned in finishes that are equally inspiring and impactful (and kind of mind-boggling, too). Here’s a look back at the game-changing feats of four “every day” triathletes who are anything but ordinary.
Meet the first woman to…
…represent Iran in triathlon.
All Shirin Gerami, a native of Iran, wanted to do was compete in her age-group at the 2013 ITU World Championships. But when she sought permission to do so from the Iran Triathlon Federation, she was told that she couldn’t, because the race attire did not align with the Islamic culture’s dress requirements. So Gerami put together an outfit that would provide the proper coverage (including a hijab), fought hard for the federation’s approval, and made history as the very first woman to represent Iran at a world championship. She doubled down on that feat three years later at the Ironman World Championship, and ultimately paved the way for Iran’s first female triathlon team. Said Gerami, now 43: “It is my dream that one day, any girl, regardless of where she lives, her background or culture, can also have access to appropriate training environments, knowledge, and inspiring role models.”
…finish 100 Ironmans.
In 2016, Florida’s Susan Haag became the first woman to complete 100 full iron-distance triathlons. Haag, a lawyer and self-described “tri fanatic,” started competing in triathlons in 1990 and simply never stopped, crossing the finish line of some 475 races since. As of last summer, Haag, 55, was now up to 125 iron-distance races and has said she is going for 200, hoping to bring more women with her along the way. “I know women have families and I know they’ve got a lot of obligations, but I would hope it’s not a self-esteem issue or confidence issue,” she said. “It matters a lot that all women have an opportunity to tri if they want. Because I’m pretty sure they’ll like it, and they’ll keep coming back.”
…complete the “Epic 5”.
Five iron-distance triathlons, on the five islands of Hawaii, in five days: Sounds almost impossible, but in 2016, Danielle Grabol of Georgia proved just the opposite. That year, the ultra-athlete made history by becoming the very first woman to both enter and finish the Epic 5, an event that started in 2010 and was popularized by Rich Roll’s book, Finding Ultra. “I figured ‘it just takes one’—one woman needs to do the race, and show that it’s possible,” Grabol, now 40, said of her feat. “Women are extremely underrepresented in the world of ultras…but [we are] figuring out this is what we are really, really good at!”
…race six Ironman events on six continents in one year.
When Jackie Faye launched her nonprofit She Can Tri in 2018, she brainstormed for ways to direct attention to it. “I knew I had to do something a little crazy,” she said. How crazy? In one year, Faye completed an Ironman on every continent—in Australia, South Africa, Switzerland, Argentina, Taiwan, and Colorado—setting a world record in the process. A military journalist, Faye was based in Kabul, Afghanistan when she was inspired to create She Can Tri to empower women everywhere—and particularly that country—to get into male-dominated fields (and yes, race triathlons, too). Faye’s adventure around the world served its purpose: “I thought if I could train women in Afghanistan, often ranked the worst place in the world to be a woman, I could do it anywhere,” she posted. “Our efforts paid off in February 2020 when Zeinab became the first Afghan woman to finish a triathlon at the Ironman 70.3 Dubai.” Faye, 36, has continued to instill change in the lives of women around the world, most recently traveling to Nairobi, Kenya to give swimming and leadership lessons to girls from poor communities there.