During any 4×4 relay at a Sherwood track meet, sophomore sprinter Karimat Afinnih captures the attention of many. Not only is she in the lead, but her unique uniform turns heads. Her arms and legs are covered by long black spandex and a long sleeve black shirt, while her head is also covered by a hijab, a headscarf worn by Muslim women that she sports on and off the track.
Afinnih’s love of running began at a young age when she ran in the Olney Elementary School field day events. “I would beat boys running in the relay races in elementary school,” she recounted, and she has not looked back since. In sixth and seventh grade, she joined her middle school track team. Although it was not the most structured sport the school offered, she learned the basics of running and the fundamentals of working with her teammates.
Middle school was also a transition period for Afinnih as she began wearing her hijab and exploring her religion on a deeper level. “I really didn’t want to wear it,” Afinnih said about her hijab. “I thought all of the kids at school were going to laugh at me.” After getting past this fear, she took the advice of her mother who encouraged her to wear it because of what it stood for, womanhood and the importance of complying with the rules set by the Islamic religion. “Eventually, I did start wearing it and I’m glad [my mom] got me thinking about it,” she said.
Being Muslim, Afinnih admits, can have its disadvantages when it comes to wearing clothing that covers her body at all times. There are moments when it gets hot, but it is not meant to be a burden on the woman by any means. “If it was really making me uncomfortable then I would be able to wear short sleeves. It’s not like I would go into the hot desert with everything covered,” she said.
In terms of running, her religious attire does not bother her or hold her back from being among the fastest sprinters on the track team.
Some of that credit, she says, goes to her sprinting coach, social studies teacher Jennifer Walker, who she claims whipped her into shape for the competitive nature of high school track. “She knows how to push me,” Afinnih said. “She knows when I’m being a wimp and when I’m actually in pain.”
During the indoor and outdoor track seasons last year, Afinnih was sidelined for two months due to a stress injury in her foot. Although she is sprinting again, she says that the injury does cause her to take a break from time to time.
Because she was not able to run for some time last season, Afinnih took that time to assist her coaches with times and drills, and help her teammates as well, with tips and supportive words. “I want to be leader-ish,” she said.
Her Islamic culture enables Afinnih to do so much, even through the negative views some people possess about her religion with the exploitation of Muslims in the media.
“I definitely feel like I’m constantly looked at… I can’t be crazy,” she said, “I can’t be dumb because I’m representing my family and Islam.” She looks to her family for support, and also finds comfort in seeing Muslim women compete at the national and international levels.
Does this mean Afinnih could be winning gold medals for America? “This probably won’t turn into a career for me,” she said, “but I wouldn’t mind a scholarship.”