Running With, Not From


Another blustery afternoon practice awaits the Berkner girls track team. As the runners trot off in unison for their warmup laps, the wind has become a noticeable factor – leaving the girls' long-flowing locks in a state of disarray. Some try to hold down their hair in mid-stride, but their efforts are futile. All the while, sophomore Natasha von Ross isn't fazed a bit. A square, black-cotton scarf – known as a hijab – shields her hair from the elements. This simple article of clothing might be nothing more than a fashion accessory for some. But in accordance with her Muslim faith, von Ross has incorporated it into every facet of her life – even while running for her school.

"It's been a part of me since the seventh grade," said von Ross, who runs the 800 meters for Berkner's junior varsity team. "I do everything I can with it, and it doesn't hold me back at all. Anyone who wears it shouldn't feel that it does. It makes me the person who I am, and I wouldn't feel the same without it." If anything, von Ross, 15, said wearing her hijab is empowering. It represents a conscious decision that she is mentally mature enough to follow other Muslim women in the practice. Tenets of Islam mandate that women cover all parts of their bodies except their faces and hands – a way to depict themselves as modest.

The only time it is to be taken off is when von Ross is at home with her family or only in front of other women. Her choice to wear the hijab on the track – von Ross first did so in the seventh grade at Liberty Junior High – represents a meshing of two cultures. While her religion will always be a focal point in her life, von Ross also feels passionate about running. In her mind, she should never be forced to choose one over the other...

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