Tom Dulat / Getty Images
Natalia Lusinski
December 02, 2017 8:10 am

If you haven’t already, you’re about to hear Zahra Lari’s name everywhere. Why? Because she’s the first professional figure skater to wear a headscarf while competing in the sport internationally. And on top of that, she’s the first skater from a Persian Gulf state, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), to participate in international figure skating competitions, according to CNN.

Lari, 22, remembers waking up at 4:30 am to train before school at the only skating rink in Abu Dhabi. Then, she practiced again in the afternoon. “I began skating when I was 12 years old, after watching the Disney movie Ice Princess,” she told CNN.

The UAE is probably not the first place that comes to mind when thinking of winter sports. The desert country is known for sports like horse races, camel races, and cricket. But despite summers that regularly reach temperatures well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, Lari pursued her dream. And now, the UAE could become the first Arab state to join the International Skating Union (ISU).

On top of that, Nike Pro just launched its first sports hijab, and Lari is one of the faces of the campaign. “The hijab is part of who I am, so to me, whether in school, at the gym, on ice or just hanging with friends, I am always wearing it,” Lari told Vogue. “When I am not wearing it, I feel something is missing. In the skating community, I’m different because I am covered and come from a desert country, but that makes me feel unique, special and empowered.”

We are unstoppable! #nikeprohijab #justdoit #nike #teamnike #nikewomen

A post shared by Zahra Lari (@zahralari) on

In addition to wearing headscarves in public, Emirati women also traditionally wear abayas, which are wide-fitting robes, according to CNN. But this poses a problem on the ice. So Lari finds ways to amend her skating outfits, such as wearing thick leggings, as well as avoiding see-through fabrics and choosing opaque cloth instead.

Lari became the first Arab woman to skate in front of a professional international judging panel wearing a headscarf back in 2012 at the European Cup in Canazei, Italy. However, the judges deducted points from her score…for an outfit violation.

"I really don't have any negative feelings towards this ruling," Lari told CNN. "The judges at that time had never seen someone compete with it so they really didn't know how to score me."

After the competition, Lari campaigned the ISU to change the rules.

She met with the head of the ISU development at the time to show him her headscarf and help him understand that it was safe to wear on the ice. Fast forward to September of this year, when Lari competed to qualify for the 2018 Winter Olympics. Officials were instructed not to consider the headscarf as a violation of one of the ISU attire rules. However, CNN reports that was a one-off ruling. The ISU is looking into whether the rule needs to be more specific in the future.

Lari did not qualify for the 2018 Winter Olympics. But she told CNN, “I want to compete at the Four Continents Figure Skating Championships and the World Championships. These competitions are my current goal.”

“I am now the first athlete to represent the UAE nationally,” Lari told Vogue. “This year I made it to the Olympic qualifications for the first time, it was a great experience and I learnt so much and I had received an immense level of support and love from the international community although I didn't qualify. My ultimate goal is to make it to the Olympics, so I am back on training for the next qualifications in four years.”

We have no doubt about Lari’s determination, and we can’t wait to see her on the ice again.

We also have no doubt that she will keep taking home medals.

Not only is Lari an accomplished skater, but she’s also a great inspiration. We give her all the medals for that!

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