It took Tahrier Sub Laden more than a year to work up the courage to ask Julie Kimball if she could join Kimball’s beginning swim class at UC Santa Cruz.

Sub Laden didn’t fear drowning, even though she planned to swim in long pants, a long sleeve shirt, a cotton tee and a scarf. Instead, she feared that her swim attire, which she wore in accordance with her Muslim beliefs, would keep Kimball from letting her into the pool.

“I just didn’t know what she would say, and I would always erase it from my schedule at the last minute,” said Sub Laden, a junior pre-med major at UCSC. “I was afraid she wouldn’t let me swim in what I wanted to swim in”

For decades, Muslim women have had to balance their athletic ambitions with the restrictions of their religious dress. Swimming has posed particular difficulty, and in Islamic countries, women usually swim in pools or during hours designated just for them. No such amenities have been set aside at UCSC. But thanks to Kimball’s open mind and, later, a random Google search that uncovered swimwear made specifically for Muslim women, Sub Laban now not only swims, she’s also looking forward to taking up surfing and Scuba diving.

Sub Laban had good reason for worrying Kimball would turn her away from the class last spring. Growing up, Sub Laban said she and her sisters had been shooed out of many a hotel pool by managers who didn’t want to risk letting them swim fully clothed. She feared Kimball would have similar misgivings.

“When I want to do something, I don’t let my religion affect me in any way,” said Sub Laban, who lives in Prunedale with her Palestinian father, American mother and three younger sisters. “I wanted to do this. I wanted to swim with my clothes because that’s who I am. Whatever held me back is whoever told me ‘No.'”


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