Athletes and Other Workers During Ramadan: This Non-Muslim Woman Takes Her Hat Off To You

“Come in here and take a look at this,” The Mate called from the living room where he was watching the NBA finals from the seat of his exercise bike.

“That guy,” he indicated one of the Toronto Raptors jockeying for a shot, “is Muslim. He’s doing all this while fasting. He’s not even drinking water!”

“That guy” is Enes Kanter, a Turkish player born in Switzerland, who’s been playing in the NBA since 2011. Kanter is a devout Muslim. This time of year, that fact carries extra meaning.

The holy month of Ramadan began on May 5. During Ramadan, devout Muslims refrain from eating or drinking anything, even water, from before dawn to after sunset. Since Ramadan is a celestially-based holiday, its dates rotate around the calendar. Sometimes Ramadan falls in the winter, and the fasting period is relatively short. But sometimes–like now–it falls in spring or summer, when daylight can last up to 18 hours.

Eat up! This has to last you 18 hours.

I watched, fascinated. All the athletes were sweating profusely, as athletes do. During breaks, they sat on the bench sucking from their Gatorade bottles. All but one. 

I’ve often wondered about people who work in the hot sun at jobs like construction, landscaping, or road work. How do they get through their challenging work days, day after day, for a month?

I haven’t yet taken the time to pursue the question as it relates to workers per se. But since I started with professional athletes, this article by Shireen Ahmed for Buzzfeednews.com, “Here’s How 15 Hardcore Athletes Train During Ramadan,” provided some answers. 

All the athletes focused on preparing their bodies carefully during suhoor, the pre-dawn meal, and iftar, the post-sunset meal. Protein and potassium were the main components, along with necessary sugar. Hydration was, as you might imagine, absolutely essential.

Get in there, vitamins! I need you!

Take a moment and think about that: not only are you going about your day of hot, sweaty, exhausting work with zero drinking, you are also getting up at four a.m. in order to prepare your body.

Besides the actual diet, however, the most striking theme from the 15 interviewed athletes was the power of their faith to get them through each work day.

Ahmed’s article features Indira Kaljo, a former Division 1 NCAA basketball player, describing the difficulty of playing while fasting:

“The biggest challenge was waiting through the water breaks. Those minutes were very difficult. The second [most difficult] thing was the late nights and then having to practice daily feeling exhausted.” The most powerful thing that helped her get through the month? “Prayer. I used prayer.”

Nadia Nadim,  a professional soccer player in the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) with the  Portland Thorns FC, who also plays for Denmark’s national women’s team, :fasts on training days but not on match days. ‘I know my body can’t handle it,’ she says, because hydration and nutrition dictate her performance.”

I KNOW, right??!!

And yet: athletes do fast on game days. Workers do fast on work days. Instead of nutrition and hydration each day, they take prayer, and faith. And they give faith back to the rest of us who watch in awe.

Manal Rostom, a professional mountaineer from Egypt,

“sees Ramadan as a month to push through with a positive mental attitude. She says that colleagues praise her efforts to teach and work out during Ramadan, but she remains grounded. ‘[They] don’t get how easy it becomes once you reset your mind to literally just do it. You will survive. Fasting trains you to become a better human being.'”

You guys are my heroes. Need some pie for iftar?

I’m not Muslim. But I recognize strength and goodness when I see it. And I mean this with all intended ironic humor when I say, “My hat is off.” Thanks for the example.

Speed Is My (Bicycle’s) Middle Name: Embracing the Electric Wheel

I owe an apology to every middle-aged person with an electric-assist bike. When they’d proudly show off their vehicle, I’d make all the polite noises, but here’s what I’d be thinking : “What are you, eighty? Why would you trade in perfectly good exercise for a free ride?”

That was a year of knee pain ago.

Since I haven’t been able to shake the pain (neither a torn meniscus nor arthritis–my doctor delivered the complicated diagnosis of, “Your knees are tired”) in 13 months, I have taken to walking my heavy bike, Dora the Explora*, up the steepest hills in order not to exacerbate the hurt. I hope to keep biking into my eighties, like my parents.

*Yes, I am a grownup who names vehicles, and large appliances too. No, it’s not in the least infantile. It’s not. It’s not. It’s not.

Then my friend Stephanie let me try her electric-assist bike around town, and I made a startling discovery: you can still ride hard in E-mode! In fact, you can gear UP going UPhill!

Whoa. I wants me some of that. So I went to my friendly neighborhood shop, Village Cycles, and they hooked me up–or Dora up. Literally.

Looks pretty much like a bike, right?

Look closer:

That’s the battery pack. Needs recharging about every 20 miles. But since I only use juice a minute at a time, usually…20 miles is forever!

Discerning eyes can spot a big difference in Dora’s front wheel:

Where the electricity meets the road!

Because I only want the E-assist on big hills, I opted for the most basic option: a tiny button which you have to hold down for the juice to flow. Let go–you’re back in regular mode. It’s a great way to keep the electric-zoom sessions short: my thumb gets tired!

Truly, though, I’ve found only three big changes to going semi-electric.

  1. Good: Pressing that magic button has taken all fear out of any potential route. I sometimes seek out hills now, just for the joy of riding hard up them without fear of too much knee stress. I think I’m getting a better workout than before!
  2. Bad: Dora has gained a lot of weight. Hefting her onto my bike rack is suddenly not a trifling thing.
  3. Ugly: I have to come to grips with my own pride. When fellow bikers, recognizing the battery pack & wheel, give me that knowing, condescending look, I cringe inside. That used to be me. And when someone now says to me, “Well, if Gretchen can use an e-wheel, then I guess it’s ok!” I have to fight the urge to blurt, “But it’s not because I’m trying to make it easier on myself!”

Except, of course, that’s exactly what I’m doing. For all the right reasons. I just have to get over my own macha-ness (kind of like when I had to get an epidural during my first childbirth and felt like a failure for not going drug-free). And that’s a pretty good workout too.

To celebrate my new acceptance of the E-life, I’ve given Dora a new middle name: Izumi. It’s a girl’s name, also associated with bikewear. And it fits: she IS zoomy now!

So if you see us zooming up a big hill and you know I’m mashing that button, you can say to yourself: “There goes a woman who’s learned a valuable lesson in humility. I wants me some of that.”

Why Almaz Ayana’s World Record Makes Me Cry: You Tell Me

Why does watching a woman set a new world track record make me cry? 

Is it because I’m a woman runner myself, and I can guess how that might feel?

Is it because I’m so impressed by the abilities of my species, or my gender?

Is it because I’m so happy for that one woman, her teammates, her coach, and her family?

All of the above? None? I’m not sure. All I know is, I tried to upload NBC’s video of Almaz Ayana’s world-record finish in the women’s 10k on the first night of Olympic track & field, and all it would give me was this link. Still : watch it. See if it makes you cry. Then see if you can say why.

http://www.nbcolympics.com/video/almaz-ayana-shatters-10000m-world-record

Damn.

Damn.