Senior Story: Pride and Self Empowerment

Whenever I state to others that I’m a marathon finisher, their faces go blank as they stare down at my 5’2’’ midget sized body. A body covered head to toe, beginning with the hijab, a Muslim headdress. Wow really?, they ask, amused with a hint of disbelief. Unwavered, I laugh and assure their doubts, doubts I once believed not long ago.

Never in my life did I envision myself passionate about running. As a child, I wasn’t the athletic type. Rarely had I participated in sports. Enter middle school, I began wearing the hijab, the transition, so difficult, that I grew embarrassed at the running team tryouts, quitting. I enter high school, and I’m invited to Students Run LA by my brother. I hesitated, yet grew determined as I came to the conclusion that I longed to experience a new life-altering passion.

Discovering the welcoming and positive nature of the team, I fell in love with SRLA and running despite my past difficulties. Through persistence and perseverance, I overcame the challenge of wearing a hijab as I grew passionate about running. Running the marathon as one of the few Muslim individuals wearing the hijab has greatly inspired me. Halfway through my first marathon as a freshman, a significant moment occurred within myself. I was hit with profound happiness and became proud of wearing the hijab. This only increased with my teammates and SRLA leaders extraordinary support, especially as my parents did not initially support me. The layers of my clothing no longer scorched my skin, rather, they empowered me. I came to the realization that I am wholly capable of dismantling the stereotypes that exist within Muslim communities-stereotypes that state women with hijabs do not play sports or run.

Today, I proudly run through the streets, no longer self conscious of my appearance. SRLA has provided me with an opportunity to overcome a personal challenge and gain solidarity to support other Muslim girls who would love to join any type of athletic activity but are self conscious about running with a hijab or are not supported by family members. My passion for running inspires me to look forward to improve other aspects of my life, and without running I wouldn’t be who I am today.

Reem is a 2019 SRLA Scholarship recipient and will be sure to use it as she attends the University of California, Los Angeles this fall. Reem is also the recipient of a special $500 Honda Dream Scholarship. American Honda, in recognition of its 60th Anniversary and partnership with Students Run LA, awarded 45 SRLA students who applied for the Honda Dream Scholarship a special one-time $500 scholarship this year.

To make a donation to support the next class of SRLA runners to help them work towards their goals like Reem did, please click here.

Christine Pajak