My Friend Sarah

Sarah Attar is an Olympian and professional runner—and so much more.

I first met Sarah in Mammoth Lakes, California, an epic mountain enclave she calls home. If she were a cabin, she would be petite but uncluttered, windowed but still private, and elegant but not fancy. Her garden would be as functional as it is beautiful. Her porch would have nice rocking chairs, rather than a hammock.

Sarah is a silent captain—she leads by doing and shares her exuberance endlessly. If you ask, she will answer, but she won’t insist. She trusts that we can all make our own decisions and paths. When I run next to her, I feel lifted and happy and calm, a gift she is able to give just by being present.

A post shared by Sarah Attar (@sarahattar) on

I remember my first run with Sarah: I fell down, hard. I bled and I wasn’t anywhere near a first aid kit. I lay there for a minute, just taking in the fall, and I thought about how little I knew of this running partner I had just met. When someone falls, it is usually a shock to everyone. Sarah was calm, though. Calm but smiling.

My second run with Sarah was up at the Lakes Basin at 9,000 feet. We ran slowly enough to catch the view, but that wasn’t enough for Sarah. She stopped me to marvel at two mountain peaks through the trees. She notices things like that. She makes me want to notice things more. Sarah is the one who takes the extra minute or five or ten after runs to sit and enjoy the environment rather than heading straight for the team van or locker room. I’ve adopted this habit from her, and it’s incredible how much joy those extra few minutes at the very end can bring to a hard workout.

If we accept and embrace the environment we’re in, it will likely embrace us back.

Sarah is a runner who is in harmony with herself. She is comfortable running with people—and also seems completely in her element when she runs alone. Her progress in running comes from a place of determination but also contentment with the journey she’s on. How rare, to be content and driven at the same time.

We often run on long roads in Mammoth, so even if I am not with Sarah, I can usually still see her. She fits in with the scenery—she looks like she belongs wherever she is. I think that is part the scenery and part her being so open-minded to it. She has taught me that if we accept and embrace the environment we’re in, it will likely embrace us back. I like to think she is deep in thought when I see her running alone, but it could also just be that Sarah is appreciating the moment she’s in. She enjoys places by running through them, though she may also return to a spot to photograph it later.

A post shared by Sarah Attar (@sarahattar) on

As a photographer, Sarah captures distinct landscapes and crisp, deliberate moments. Sarah’s goal is to have her landscape photos capture her original experience of discovery, her first impression of a place. Sharing these environments with others through photography creates a positive feedback loop for her—by running to a place and then returning to photograph it, Sarah is making a paintbrush stroke and then going back to press her fingerprint into one particular spot. I love her photos and admire that she takes the time to embrace her running in this way—reflecting on the places we experience through running reinforces why we run in the first place.

Running in last place would make most athletes uncomfortable, but Sarah approached things differently.

But what I admire most about Sarah is her confidence. Nothing showed me Sarah’s deep confidence more than when I watched her race the marathon in Rio this summer. Even though we were each proud to represent our respective countries, I felt like Sarah and I were also on a team. She came to cheer for my 10K, and I bandit-ran around her marathon, catching glimpses of her along the 26.2-mile course wherever I could.

It began before the race even began: I found Sarah in a sea of other marathoners, all of whom were nervously adjusting race bibs, sipping water, praying, many surrounded by equally nervous coaches and trainers. Sarah was alone, as her coach was dedicated to staying at the fluid exchange zone. I wasn’t sure whether she would want to chat or not, but she was warm and calm. We made sure her uniform and race bib were properly prepared, but I didn’t sense a bit of bad nerves from her, only the good kind. Sarah smiled and told me she was ready.

A post shared by Sarah Attar (@sarahattar) on

I’ve never been so invested in and glued to a marathon as I was in Rio. I remember every minute of it—the course was set up in loops, and it was the first time I’ve ever seen Sarah become truly competitive and fierce. In practice, she appears calm and determined, but Rio brought out a side of her that felt new. I’d never seen her try to run out of her mind before—pushing her comfort zone in a way that showed in her face.

The thing was, though, Sarah was in last place. Running in last place would make most athletes uncomfortable, but Sarah approached things differently. Sarah kept her eyes locked on the woman one place ahead, a Singaporean marathoner. Sarah made up ground calmly but surely—each lap, decreasing her differential and slowly gaining ground. In time, Sarah caught the girl.

Nothing is better than getting the most out of our bodies.

Sarah’s mindset made her successful. Being in the back of the pack was never a negative thing for her because she had a personal goal and achieved it—she didn’t compare her Olympic journey to anybody else’s. Nothing is better than getting the most out of our bodies, and it was amazing to watch Sarah push through pain and choose to enjoy it. She was glowing. Inspiring is an understatement. I had goosebumps.

A post shared by Sarah Attar (@sarahattar) on

The tricky thing for Sarah, and one of the things I admire about her most, is how she introduces herself. She is a two-time Olympian—one of the first women to represent Saudi Arabia—and yet, it was only recently that she began really seeing herself as a professional runner.

I understand where Sarah is coming from, though we each have our own journeys. I think it’s hard to look at ourselves and see a professional runner sometimes because it assumes an element of certainty that we may or may not have yet. Nonetheless, Sarah Attar is a professional runner. She lives and breathes the sport. She is fully dedicated to her pursuit, and she has competed at the highest level. She will continue to do so. She is also more than just a runner—she’s an artist and a trailblazer. I admire her because she wears each of these hats distinctly and gracefully, yet together.

Sarah’s current goal as a marathoner is to hit the Olympic standard of 2:45 and qualify for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. I know she will do it. Sarah is my friend, my role model, and my teammate.

No Comments