The world of sport produces many a pioneer. From high jumper Dick Fosbury to tennis player Billie Jean King to rugby player Jonah Lomu, elite exponents have propelled their respective disciplines to new heights.
Theirs is a path now being trodden by Emirati figure skater Zahra Lari, who not only became the first from the UAE to compete internationally, but also the first in the sport to perform in a hijab. The 22-year-old now has her sights on being the first UAE athlete to compete at the Winter Olympics, although she admits her passage to this stage has been abundant with pitfalls.
“To be honest, it has been very hard,” she tells Time Out. “I not only didn’t have the higher-level skaters to look up to, but I also had the struggle of educating the region on what this sport actually is. Then there was the struggle of us getting the International Skating Union to approve both the hijab and the UAE’s membership. I feel that if there is a will, there will always be a way.”
Acceptance is something Lari has battled tirelessly for, encouraged by several female members of the ruling families of the UAE. And with her taking the lead, figure skating is enjoying something of a boom in the Middle East.
“I’m so happy to say that the sport has already grown in the region,” says Lari, one of the faces of the new Nike Pro Hijab.
“I think with any new sport, it takes time to catch on, but I’m pleased with the growth so far. I also know that success comes with hard work, patience and determination, and I have all of those.”
As for her own progress, Lari is indebted to Emirates Skating Club coach Alexandra Ievleva for adding an impressive 20 points to her competitive results in just one year. At that rate, PyeongChang 2018 might well be just a Salchow or two away.