DC: Muslim Runners Endure Demands of Fasting


Juashaunna Kelly could have done without the Indian summer that's hit the area during the month-long Ramadan holiday. The longer the Theodore Roosevelt senior ran in the afternoon heat of a recent cross-country practice -- nine miles through Rock Creek Park, up Connecticut Avenue, then back to the Northwest school for a half-dozen 100-meter sprints -- the stickier and drier her mouth became.

She felt woozy, and lay down on the rubber track. Ten minutes passed before anyone noticed her sprawled on the surface. Roosevelt Coach Anthony Bowden and several of Kelly's teammates picked her up and helped her toward the locker room -- it was cool inside and she could find an ice compress -- but the ground-level entrance was locked, forcing her to use the one at the top of the bleachers.

"I looked up and it looked so far away," Kelly, 17, said. "I took a deep breath and started walking and it felt like I was about to fall."

For Bowden, diagnosing the problem was easy. Alleviating it proved more difficult. He couldn't have her drink plenty of water as he would his other runners. Instead, he gave her some ice, cooled her off, and told her to rest. A teammate gathered Kelly's gear and walked her home.

Kelly is one of many area Muslim cross-country runners forced to reconcile the commitment to her sport with her commitment to her faith during Ramadan, which started Sept. 13 and ends tomorrow. Ramadan, Islam's holiest holiday, requires Muslims to abstain from eating or drinking during daylight hours.

"I was really concerned," Bowden said. "You tell the kids to try to drink as much water as you can, get your body well hydrated before you come out. I'm not used to training runners that don't drink or eat."

Cross-country meets can last five hours or more, although the races themselves take approximately 25 minutes or less. To stave off dehydration before and after exhausting five-kilometer (3.1-mile) races, athletes usually chug water and sports drinks and devour granola bars, bananas and cookies.

For Kelly, that would be a betrayal.

"You reach a certain point," she said. "But I can control myself. It's not just about eating. Everything you have to do [during Ramadan] has to be positive."

Kelly has made the choice to continue to compete while honoring her obligation to fast. Fasting affects her times -- she covers 5K courses in more than 20 minutes during Ramadan, but hopes to be under that mark when she's at full strength. (MORE)

 


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