Zakia Mirzayi, 25, is a young Taekwondo player, cyclist and sports coach from Herat. She holds a Bachelor in Education from Herat University. She has been doing Taekwondo since her early years, and in recent years, she has embarked on cycling as well. Zakia now leads a team of cyclist girls in a city where doing sport is still a taboo for women.
“After the fall of the Taliban, the conditions for girls were not conducive to sports. My brothers all went to the martial arts club. I was interested too, but there was not a single club for girls in Herat at that time. After several years, a club was opened for women, and I started my exercises too.”
Zakia is currently a member of Herat Taekwondo Team as well as Afghanistan National Taekwondo Team and so far has attended several local and national competitions bringing home many medals.
“Originally, I was not into cycling. The Taekwondo club was closed for some reason and my coach introduced me to another club in the fairly distant part of the city where mostly boys were exercising. I observed that the boys came to the club by bicycles, and I also bought a bicycle to pedal all the way to the club although it was a taboo for me as a girl. It was when I became very interested in cycling too.”
However, it has not been easy for her to practice cycling. “Initially, I had no place to practice cycling. Other girls were not willing to practice with me either. That’s why I cut my hair and dressed like boys and went out on the streets of my neighborhood to practice.”
In 2018, Zakia went to Bamyan to attend a cycling race where she received a lot of recognition. Earlier this year, for the first time ever in Herat, she herself held an open-air cycling race in Herat. The participants were both boys and girls.
“This was a good start for the girls who love to bike. At first, I did not think that many girls would show up for the race. But surprisingly, we found that there were thirty girls participating, twice as many as boys who came. This was a great achievement in promoting girls’ cycling, and I was feeling great about it.”
Zakia is getting ready for several other cycling races in Herat in the near future, and one of them will be held in late 2019.
“I think I can contribute better with these races to raising awareness because I believe that it’s not only about talking but rather girls should actually ride the bikes to normalize things with their actions. My other goal for holding these competitions is to identify talents because I intend to form a team of cycling girls in Herat and officially register it with the Federation. Although the Federation is currently opposed to this, I’m trying my utmost to make this happen because it will open up our path towards further progress.”
Zakia has always dreamt to attend the International Olympics games one day. “I work hard to make this dream come true.”