Jackie Faye has long been on a mission to prove that women can do anything just as well as a man (duh). But as a military journalist, Faye has had her fair share of difficult times working in a male-dominated environment.
"The work itself has never been the issue," Faye tells Shape. "I love my job, but I am one of a few women who chose this profession because it's stereotypically reserved for males."
It has been a long road and tomorrow my sixth and final @ironmantri on my journey to do six IRONMANs on six continents within one year is here. I will be running the last 1.68 miles of the 140.6 mile race in my 20-pound bulletproof vest to honor the 168 U.S. service women who have died for our country in Iraq and Afghanistan. Just a small reminder that women have paid the ultimate price for our freedom and deserve equality in this country. It is a burden I am willing to carry on my back literally and something I will continue to try to fight for through She Can Tri. #SwimLikeAGirl #BikeLikeAGirl#RunLikeAGirl #FightLikeAGirl
This realization led Faye to do some research of her own. "I found that so many stereotypically male-dominated fields, including technology, business, banking, and the military aren't doing their part in recruiting women," she says. "In part, that's because women aren't seen as being fit for these jobs, but it's also because there aren't enough women out there who believe they're capable to succeed in these industries because of the lack of female representation." In other words, it's a vicious cycle—and one that led Faye to launch an important venture.
Finding Her Purpose
To inspire more women to work in male-dominated fields, Faye decided to create the non-profit She Can Tri in partnership with the Service Women's Action Network (SWAN). By developing seminars for high school girls and featuring women who've pursued careers in male-dominated fields, the organization hopes to prove that women can indeed be successful in these historically male-dominated roles.
After creating the non-profit, Faye felt more motivated than ever. "I knew I had to do something that showed that I, too, could put myself out there, push boundaries, and accomplish something unthinkable," she says. What came next?
A decision to complete six Ironman races on six different continents in one calendar year, that's what. (Related: How I Went from Overweight New Mom to Ironwoman)
Faye knew she had set a possibly unattainable goal. After all, this was something no woman had ever accomplished before. But she was determined, so she set a goal to train a minimum of 14 hours a week while in Afghanistan—on top of jumping out of helicopters in weighted bulletproof vests as part of her reporting job. (Related: I Signed Up for an Ironman Before Finishing a Single Triathlon)
Training In Afghanistan
Each part of Faye's training came with its own setbacks. Because of the harsh Afghani climate and the lack of space and safe roads, it was impossible for Faye to bike out in the open—"so, for the cycling portion, the stationary bike was my best friend," she says. "It also helped that I already taught spin classes to military troops and embassy staff on base," she says.
Faye was also already part of a running group on base and began using those runs as a way to train for the upcoming Ironmans. She even found some Afghan women to run with. "It was truly special to train alongside these young women, two of which are training for a 250-kilometer race in Mongolia," she says. (Interested in signing up for a race, too? Conquer an Ironman with these tips from top athletes.)
"What's crazy is that they're doing it despite the fact that it's dangerous to run outside. So watching them come to base and train, giving it their all, made me realize I really didn't have an excuse when it came to accomplishing my goal. Compared to them, I had everything working in my favor." (Related: Meet the Women Runners Breaking Barriers In India)
If Faye ever found herself close to giving up, she used the resilience of the Afghan women as motivation. "The first woman to have ever completed a marathon in Afghanistan was in 2015, which was three years ago. And she did it by training in her backyard, afraid that she'd be killed if she ran outside," she says. "It's stories like these that served as a reminder that women must keep pushing societal restraints if they want to be seen as equal—and it drove me to do my part by completing the Ironman challenge."
She trained but was told she couldn’t compete at the 2010 American Open Weightlifting Championships because of her dress. But Kulsoom Abdullah, Pakistan's first woman weightlifter, was determined to get her place on the platform. Kulsoom appealed to the International Weightlifting Federation and changed the world of global sports. At the USA Senior Nationals in July 2011, she made history as the first competitor with her arms, legs and head covered. #shecantri #likeagirl #liftlikeagirl #pushboundaries #KulsoomAbdullah
The most difficult part of training she says, however, was swimming. "Swimming is just something I've never been great at," she says. "I didn't truly start swimming until 2015 and had to take lessons when I first started doing triathlons. It was a lot of hard work building my endurance up to accomplishing that 2.4-mile swim that an Ironman requires, but I did it, nose clips and all."
Breaking the World Record
Faye's 12-month goal kicked off in Australia on June 11, 2017. After that, she went to Europe, Asia, South America, South Africa, and concluded her journey back in the U.S.
"Every single race was super nerve-wracking," she says. "I knew that if I failed on race number five, I'd have to start all over again. So with each race, the stakes were a little bit higher." (The next time you want to give up, remember this 75-year-old woman who did an Ironman.)
But on June 10, 2018, Faye found herself at the starting line in Boulder, Colorado, just one more Ironman away from breaking the world record. "I knew I wanted to do something special for the last race so I decided I was going to run the last 1.68 miles of the 26.2-mile race in a weighted bulletproof vest to honor the 168 U.S. servicewomen who've lost their lives serving our country in Iraq and Afghanistan."
Now, having officially (!) broken the world record, Faye says she hopes that her accomplishments inspire young women to stop feeling like they have to play by the "rules". "I think there's a lot of pressure on young women to be a lot of things," but decide what you want to do and just go for it, she says.
"Just because no other woman is doing it, doesn't mean you can't. If there's any takeaway from my personal journey, I hope it's that."