Growing up, I never played contact sports. I first attended a Minnesota RollerGirls game in 2009. Even though I didn’t know how to roller skate, I immediately thought, “I have to do that.” I saw many different body types and ages of women skating. I knew I wanted to be part of the power and energy of the sport.
Through a recreation league, I learned how to skate from veterans, and made it onto the Rockits team.
It can be challenging to make new friends as an adult. Through roller derby, I’ve made connections and joined a community of badass women and non-binary people who work together to support one another and sustain our revolutionary sport. I love the opportunity to be unapologetically strong with my body and innovative with strategies. Because we are a self-run business, we keep ourselves accountable in fitness and organizational goals.
Through derby I’ve been empowered by teammates. I travel all over the country with the Minnesota RollerGirls All-Stars. Last year, I was part of the first Team Philippines in the Roller Derby World Cup. As a first-generation Filipina-American, it was inspiring to be able to connect with other powerful Filipina women through roller derby.
I was a tomboy growing up. In the late 1960s at my high school, a girl could participate in synchronized swimming or cheerleading. In 1972, Title IX was passed, which prohibited discrimination on the basis of sex in federally funded educational programs, including sports. Transformational, but too late for us.
So how did my generation achieve athletic prowess and spirited adventure? We sought challenge in unconventional ways.
For me, it is rigorous solo sports, wilderness sojourns, and adventure travel. When I was younger, it was the physical accomplishment that mattered. I swam, sailed, and skied. I worked for a Colorado-based backpacking manufacturer and retailer. I loved testing the packs, tents, sleeping bags, and other equipment in heavy weather, relying on my own skill and strength to survive in a storm. I preferred to solo backpack, because in nature I found solace, serenity, and spiritual renewal.
I bought a one-way ticket to Europe and roamed over 40 countries by backpacking, motorcycling, rail travel, hitch-hiking, and bicycling the back ways. Vivid memories: standing room seating for the Vienna symphony, peering out of an Afghani hotel window at a 4th century B.C. fortress built by Alexander the Great, red tassel-adorned horse taxis, the empathetic eyes of an Iranian mother on a bus when I wasn’t feeling well.
Later, as a college graduation present to my youngest daughter, we spent three weeks in the Daintree Rain Forest, Great Barrier Reef, and camping in the Outback of Australia.
In my retirement, I seek adventure travel in a more mindful way. It is about personal empowerment and self-care. I went on a five-day trek in Bhutan. I met a woman yak-herder my age. I booked a trek to Slovenia, and then discovered I had breast cancer. Undeterred, I went anyway, in between lumpectomies. The challenge and incredible scenery buoyed my spirits. I recently joined my daughter in a 10-day trek to Machu Picchu and the Peruvian jungle.
I am definitely decelerating, but I linger longer and more appreciatively over the landscapes. My highlight on the recent trip was meeting a mother with her three-year-old daughter safely swaddled on her back. She proudly showcased 62 varieties of potatoes she was cultivating, reined in her alpaca herds, and showed off a plethora of guinea pigs in the corner of her house. It is these cross-cultural connections that I treasure most.
I love sports. I played sports growing up, but stopped in my 20s when doing political work. That was a mistake. Wisdom.
I had loved being strong, even as a teen. Although I had back injuries and brain damage, I could still play softball: a glove in my hand in the field, catching balls at a time when women and girls were minimally permitted. Who cared? My love was catching flyballs. You spot a ball flying off a bat, track it to see where it will go, and move your body to it. No matter how high the ball, I could track it. Running to meet it was exhilarating.
That ability to “track” stays with me: the ability to stay focused on a goal. In my 40s, I became permanently disabled, and lost the ability to work or sit upright in chairs, but I could still walk.Then I started to lose the ability to throw a ball, until one day I said “no” to that. I started throwing a koosh-ball against a wall, graduating to a tennis ball, a cushy softball, then a heavier baseball, building up muscles and connective tissue. And I began to throw a light ball up really high, tracking it and catching it. Wonderful!
Now, I continue to throw a ball, but I also do yoga, albeit gently, an hour or more each day. I walk outside in the summer, on a treadmill in the winter. I’m doing jumping jacks again. Slowly is the key. However, getting support is the bigger key: I cannot do it alone! What a joy having my body get strong again.
As a basketball coach for young Muslim girls at a community center, I saw a determination to enjoy sports, to win, to gain confidence through physical activity. I also noticed that some girls were taking off their hijab. so that it would not interfere with their playing. The hijab tended to fall off, or make them feel too hot during games.
Girls told me that taking off the hijab gave them one less thing to worry about. They could concentrate on making the shot. Yet I noticed that some of them did not invite family members to see them play, since it was an important faith tradition to cover the hair.
Some girls were not comfortable taking off the hijab, and were leaving the sport instead.
I knew these girls loved playing, and wanted to do so with no barriers. The entire idea behind having this private gym time was to feel confidence in who they are — in their identity as Muslim girls.
I didn’t want them to choose between their confidence as an athlete and their identity as women.
Yet I understood. It is socially important for everyone to find a way to fit in, while also learning that nothing can stop me.
I was born in Mogadishu, Somalia, where I lived until I was six. My family came to the U.S. to flee civil war. I have worn a hijab most of my life, including as a jogger. The thought of leaving the house without my hijab is as inconceivable as not wearing my eyeliner.
Together, the girls and I co-created a hijab made of sweat-wicking fabric that can breathe and stay on during play.
As someone with no business experience, I partnered in 2016 with Jamie Glover, a Carlson School of Management student at the University of Minnesota. State senator Kari Dziedzic supported our efforts. Business visionary Monica Nassif was a mentor. Crowdfunding and grants helped us raised more than $100,000. We launched Asiya Modest Active Wear on International Women’s Day in 2017.
Since then, Nike and others have introduced a line of hijabs. I see that as a positive thing — it shows Muslim women’s place in the sports market and builds awareness of our needs as runners, weightlifters, swimmers, martial artists, soccer players, and more. It was only a few years ago that a Saudi Arabian judo Olympian was banned from competing while wearing a hijab. It wasn’t until 2017 that the International Basketball Federation overturned its ban on head coverings.
Now the Asiya brand of headwear is sold in 25 countries, throughout the U.S., to schools and recreation programs and individuals, for all sports needs. The goal is for it to be as important to the team as any equipment. Asiya was created not to make money, but to solve a problem. We partner with non-profits, and offer opportunities to sponsor an athlete.
There is no reason you should lose your culture or your religion in order to feel confident as an athlete. We are all stronger when we are free to share our real identity.