Team USA triathlete Khadijah Diggs didn’t find her calling in triathlon until 2012 when she first dipped her toe into the sport as a novice at the age of 40 (on a fixed-gear bike she only bought the week before!). Since then, she’s made up for lost time and is a regular fixture on the USA long course Triathlon and aquathlon teams, after becoming the first African-American woman and Hijabi to represent the USA in both disciplines.
Despite her success, Khadijah has faced hurdles just to compete wearing her head-to-toe race kit and hijab – even when wearing her official and approved USA triathlon kit. Undeterred, she has made it her mission to change the landscape of triathlon and encourage more Muslim and African-American women to take up the sport – more recently through launching the Diversity Inclusion Syndicate by Khadijah (D. I. S. K.) which we cover in more detail in the Q&A below.
Oh, and I forgot to mention that this triathlon trailblazer is a mother of 10 who works fulltime and is homeschooling! Go, Khadijah!
You’ve been active all your life, running track from the age of 9 and swimming with your father, but it wasn’t until you were 40 that you did your first triathlon. How fit were you at the time?
I wasn’t very fit at all. Even though I had been running short road races and swimming recreationally, I was a new mother of twins so I had very little time for training prior to the approximately 2.5 months I took to train for my first triathlon. I was clearly out of shape for a triathlon but probably in average shape overall. I really just had zero idea how strenuous even a sprint triathlon could be.
You had no cycling experience either. Was understanding bike handling a big learning curve?
Understanding cycling was a huge learning curve, but I enjoyed it because it’s a marriage between science and fitness. I spent a lot of time researching terms and trying to understand the pros and cons of different training styles and equipment. I really began to enjoy cycling after joining the Metro Atlanta Cycling Club (MACC). They taught me a lot about group riding, bike maintenance, time trial vs peloton riding. I am now officially a cycling fanatic.
In 2016 you were the first Hijabi to represent Team USA in triathlon. Has the triathlon landscape become more diverse since then or is there still a long way to go?
I believe the triathlon landscape is more diverse. I’m not sure of the exact count but I believe there are now eleven African Americans on the US Triathlon team at varying distances. There are still no other hijabis, which is disappointing to me. I believe there is a ton of work and opportunity for USA Triathlon to tap into new talent. This is the reason I have taken an active role by becoming a USA Triathlon Foundation Ambassador and starting a program called Diversity Inclusion Syndicate by Khadijah (D. I. S. K.).
I have actively solicited African American women and Hijabis to participate in a year-long, comprehensive triathlon experience. They will receive speciality coaching in each of the three disciplines, [plus] strength training, yoga classes, two training camps, two open water swim clinics, and Team experience at Rev3 Williamsburg along with the FastChix Triathlon Team. I will be their primary coach but I am uplifted by a close-knit and experienced Team including a dedicated Board of Directors.
One of the challenges you’ve faced is just to be allowed to compete wearing your hijab and full-length kit, is that right?
Yes. After “acceptance” as an athlete and not just a visitor, race kits have been my biggest struggle in the sport. I now have two kit brands that make USAT and ITU approved race kits for me. The first, Xceed apparel, is by far my favorite. The hijabi kit is available by custom design only and the design was done by Jason Rynhardt, who previously owned Peaks Apparel. The second is ROKA. They are the makers of the Team USA kits. These kits are only available for Team USA athletes. I have a long course and short course kit, although I destroyed a third short course kit in a bike crash. They are the only two in existence and a non-Team USA kit is not offered.
What hijab and modest sportswear do you personally recommend?
I am ridiculously excited that TriSerena, who is the kit sponsor for the D. I. S. K. Team, will be offering their hijabi kit as an ‘off the shelf’ item. I’m thrilled that they are making this bold move and I intend to support them in any way possible. You can check out their kits and the story of the owner and founder at TriSirena.com.
I exclusively wear Asiya Modest Activewear (Asiyasport.com) hijabs. I have literally tried them all and Asiya makes the lightest, best-fitting and best-looking hijabs out there. Last year, they launched a number of beautiful colors, so there is a hijab for every taste. I race in the Asiya Sport design. I actually wear the Asiya Fit design daily to work!
I recently started wearing Splashgear Resort Pants and Resort Tunics for pre- and post-swim training and recreation activities. The owner, Shereen Sabet, has been in the space of supporting Muslim women enjoying watersports since 1996. (splashgearusa.com).
Hijabi athletes want to race, be competitive and look good doing it, like any other athlete. These three brands get it and I am all in, supporting them.
Tell us more about the Diversity Inclusion Syndicate by Khadijah and your goals for it?
I am excited, nervous and passionate about this journey. My goal is to bring visibility to the multisport talent in the African American and Muslim community. The intention is to cater to the unique needs of these athletes through a tailored and comprehensive experience.
The response by the community has been beautiful and we received a number of strong applications. We originally intended to accept three athletes, but due to the quality of the applicant pool, we have accepted four athletes. The goal is to provide support, training and vision to future multisport champions.
You have 10 children (respect!) and a fulltime job. When and how do you find time to train?
I have been blessed with an amazing blended family. Right now, I have four children at home. My other children have all graduated and are working, in college or a combination. I train a lot at night. I am fortunate to have all that I need in my basement to train. I have never been shy about purchasing or accepting second-hand equipment, so I have been able to establish a decent mini tri-training set-up.
I also integrated family time into my training. Pre-pandemic my 10-year-old twins regularly went to the pool with me. I have a daughter who is a competitive boxer. We run and sometimes strength train together. My oldest son at home has taken up running so I have a run partner some days… and we get to chat as we go, which I really enjoy.
What does a typical week of training look like for you?
Monday to Friday from 8am to around 4:30/5:30pm is a combination of work and assisting my youngest three with schoolwork. They have transitioned to homeschooling since the pandemic. I generally train between 7pm and 12. The duration varies based on the season. Invariably, I’m able to get a lunch run in based on my meeting schedule. I strength train on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday.
Saturday and Sunday, I try to train early so we can spend the afternoon on grocery shopping, cooking meals for the week, household projects and GOOFING OFF.
You have a great set-up at home with a treadmill, turbo and even built an endless pool. How do you stay motivated during long/hard indoor sessions?
I watch YouTube videos, primarily triathlons and it may sound crazy but I love to just zone out sometimes. My brain was built for endurance, I believe. I love the solitude and just being in my head. I plan, I visualize races…
What mental strategies do you draw upon when racing or training gets hard?
#NeverGiveUpOnYourself #DreamAndGrind and #LiveByLove. These are not just hashtags – they have meaning and weight for me. Triathlon, I realized, has been a journey in believing in myself and then sharing it with others. I define meaningful (at least to me) goals for myself and work smart and hard to achieve them, recognizing that if I fail, I fail forward. Lastly, I always try to operate from a perspective of love. We are here for such a short period of time, let your legacy be gratitude, giving and love.
I put in work, I want to uplift others because I have been uplifted by people who have wanted nothing but to see me succeed. Every step in training and every second in a race I have a responsibility to give my very best. Along with the fact that I love to compete, those thoughts give me wings. I have actually cried or laughed out loud in the middle of races because I am so happy, grateful and in absolute disbelief about the amazing path Allah (swt) has written for me.
Gratitude is my superpower.
What are your favourite items of kit for triathlon racing and training?
My Wakanda-inspired triathlon kit by Xceed Apparel and my white Asiya Hijab with the US Flag on it. They made it for me on my first trip to the ITU World Championships. I told them they are the official Team USA Triathlon hijab provider since I am the only hijabi right now, LOL!
Who are you sponsored by right now?
F2C Nutrition is my biggest Sponsor. I am also sponsored by Splashgear USA, Komfort-Zone Soaps and Asiya Modest Sportswear. I am an Ambassador for Balega International, BOCO gear and Finis Swim.
You can follow Khadijah via her social media: www.instagram.com/khadijahtriathlete.
Find out more about Khadijah and the D.I.S.K program by visiting www.khadijatriathlete.com.