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Somali Muslim Swimmers Break Barriers in Minnesota

MINNESOTA – Two high-school Somali Muslim girls are breaking barriers in Minnesota, becoming the first Muslim girls to join the school’s team and two of the first to swim competitively in the state.

“They’re putting themselves out there and setting an example for other girls,” team captain Rachel Warner said of the two students, Star Tribune reported on Monday, October 9.

“And it takes so much courage.”

Immigrating with their families to the US, Suhan Mohamed and Nimo Gohe did not know how to swim.

The sport, however, remained a remote choice for Muslim girls, who abide by Islamic modest dress code.

This came to a change when their high school activities Director Dave Langerud approached the community to encourage girls to jump in the water.

“Of all the sports in the world, the last sport I’d think you’d get girls of Muslim faith is swimming,” Langerud said, nodding to religious and cultural values that stress modesty.

Nearly half of the 1,400 students at Apollo are students of color. Of those, about 30 percent are Somali, which has prompted the school to hire more English language teachers like Badger.

Alex Badger, Apollo’s head swimming coach set a goal to recruit girls who may have never considered swimming.

“If you’re interested in putting your face in the water, welcome to the team,” she told them. “This is about opening doors for all swimmers.”

At Apollo, Mohamed and Gohe said they’ve felt nothing but support, emboldening them to become trailblazers.

“They didn’t make us feel like we didn’t know anything,” Mohamed, 18, said of the swim team. “They were so nice to us.”

To accommodate their Muslim faith, Badger found black burkinis and full-body swimsuits for Mohamed and Gohe.

Because the suits didn’t comply with Minnesota State High School League regulations, she also got a rare waiver from the league.

“I don’t think they understand what barriers they’re breaking down in the community,” she added.

Langerud, the activities director, said he’s amazed by what Mohamed and Gohe have done.

“I actually cried when they jumped in the water,” he said.

“They’re going to be the biggest advocates for other kids. They’re going to change the world.”