MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Trying a new sport for the first time takes commitment and a little courage, and that was especially true for two girls on the St. Cloud Apollo High School swim team.
Seniors Suhan Mohamed and Nimo Gohe are Muslim, and the first Somali teenagers to join the girls swim team.
“The people are different, the language, every single thing is different,” Mohamed said.
Two years ago, Mohamed moved with her siblings from Somalia to St. Cloud, Minnesota. Getting used to a new town and school were hard enough, and sports were an afterthought — that was, until she met swim coach Alex Badger.
“The girls said, ‘Well, I don’t have transportation.’ That’s easy, we’ll drive you, no problem. ‘What about swimsuits?’ That’s easy, we’ll get you swim suits you feel comfortable in,” Badger said. “Eventually they said, ‘I’ve got nothing left, I’ll join.'”
Mohamed had always wanted to try swimming, so she and Gohe joined the team — becoming the first Muslim girls to do so at St. Cloud Apollo. Teammates were so happy to have them that they changed their swimsuits to look a little more like the “burkinis” the girls had to wear.
“I can’t say enough about the girls,” Badger said. “The first time we learned Somali girls would be on the team the captains stepped up in a big way. We want to make sure our swimsuits match theirs.”
Still, there were a lot of nerves during that first varsity meet. Mohamed swims the 50 meter freestyle.
“Everyone was watching me. I was like, ‘What should I do? What should I do?'” she said. “But I got in the water, ended up finishing, and everything was fine after that.”
And it’s not just about swimming — she goes go to practice in the morning then to school where she’s a straight-A student. Then it’s back to practice in the afternoon, and then off to work at Walmart.
And when she gets off work at 10:30, she goes home to do homework.
“I have no idea when that child sleeps,” Badger said.
It’s just one of the many reasons she’s an inspiration, especially for Khalid Oumar who was the first Muslim to join the boys swim team.
“I attend every meet they have. They are doing such a great job,” said Oumar.
Coach Badger agrees — not just with swimming, the girls are making waves for future swimmers.
“In the past week I’ve gotten 10 Somali girls who’ve said, ‘I want to sign up for the team next year,'” Badger said.
They found plenty of encouragement from their future teammates.
“Just do it. Don’t think about anyone else. Just do what you want,” Mohamed said.
Coach Badger is also new to Minnesota, and holds a free swim camp in the summer to help recruit young athletes to the sport. Last summer she rented a van to pick up students who were interested in trying the sport but didn’t have transportation.