Wed, Aug 08, 2007 - Page 18 News List

Iranian girls dream of being Olympic kayaking pioneers


Kimiya Vaezi of Iran practices in her kayak prior to competing in the Whitewater Slalom National Championships at Adventure Sports Center International in McHenry, Maryland, on Saturday.


Three teenage girls from Iran who have spent the past month training on US whitewater slalom courses might one day be Olympic paddling pioneers for Iranian and Muslim women.

Roxana Razeghian, Shadi Kalantar and Kimya Vaezi overcame worries on the water just as their coach, Katayoon Ashraff, navigated political headaches to allow them a US visit and the chance to compete in a world junior kayak event.

"These girls are going to be catapults to something greater happening in the world," said Chris Wiegand, a US junior coach who hosted the Iranians. "We're not even to the first gate, because it's more than these girls going to the Olympics. The goal is competitors from every Muslim and Islamic nation."

Ignoring US-Iran political tensions three hour's drive away in Washington, the girls enjoyed a new mountain-top facility while Ashraff vowed to win the support of Iran's government for their dream despite possible fundamentalist objections.

"They will agree. I'm sure they will," Ashraff said. "I can solve these problems, I'm sure. I'm not afraid. Who knows what is in front of a stone when you are paddling in the water? This sport promotes getting beyond obstacles. That transcends to the heart."

Competing at Beijing next year is a dream. Getting ready for London in 2012 and beyond is a broader goal.

"I worked very hard for them to be able to come. It was very important to me," Ashraff said.

"It was not easy, but I achieved this. If we have the chance to work more we can be successful. These girls, they are the best message I can send. They came from far down to a level where they are very comfortable. They were scared. Now they aren't," he said.

"Sport is another language for people to connect and relate to each other. No politics can affect this," Ashraff said.

Matt Taylor, director of the Adventure Sports Center and a two-time US canoe Olympian, marvels at the girls' achievements.

"They've got tremendous character. That's a tribute to them and their culture," he said.

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