Lion Cup: the story of Zahra, international student and steerswoman

Zahra Ghahtani

On Saturday, May 13th, the 6th edition of the Lion Cup took place. The international university Dragon Boat competition is organized by Ca' Foscari University of Venice and Iuav University of Venice in collaboration with Cus Venezia.
This year, the teams competed over a distance of 150 meters, with mixed crews composed of 5 men and 5 women.

In addition to the teams from the Venetian Universities - Ca' Foscari and IUAV - the competition saw the participation of the Universities of Padua, Insubria, Bari, and Trento. There were also two international teams, representing the Universities of Vienna and Gdansk.

The Ca' Foscari - Iuav team took first place, with Padua and Insubria finishing second and third respectively.

Here are the people in the winning crew:

  • Dalila Anghetti
  • Pietro Colombo
  • Nikita Ivanets
  • Manuel Scomparin
  • Massimo Nensi
  • Alejandro Carreno
  • Letizia Nuscis
  • Laura Gianoli
  • Zahra Ghahtani
  • Ludovica Vaghi

Tasked with guiding the boat and optimizing the efforts of the rowers, the role of a steersman is crucial in the path to victory. On the winning team of the Lion Cup, this role is currently held by Zahra, an international student, whose curiosity for different cultures and love for dragon boating brought her to Venice, a place where she could thrive in her passions.

Zahra’s decision to leave her native country of Iran was driven by a desire to explore the world and overcome the limitations she faced “I am always seeking opportunities to challenge myself in various aspects of life. Although I could have chosen to experience my dreams within my own country, I desired to step out of my comfort zone and live in a new part of the world.
Moreover, considering the current crisis and the restrictive circumstances imposed on women in Iran, including frequent cancellations of competitions and limited opportunities in sports due to my gender, I made the decision to come to Italy. Specifically, Italy, and Ca' Foscari in Venice, offered a welcoming environment where I could pursue my dreams without facing the same limitations. Growing up in Bushehr, a coastal city near the Persian Gulf, the allure of Venice matched perfectly with my personal inclinations.”

In the Master’s degree programme in Language Science, Zahra found a perfect fit for her passion for new languages and linguistic research. “The professors have been incredibly supportive, encouraging me to pursue independent research projects and fostering a culture of critical thinking.  One of the highlights of my university experience has been the diverse group of classmates from different countries and backgrounds. We share our unique perspectives, exchange ideas, and learn from one another.”

Zahra is now the steersman - or rather steerswoman - in the mixed dragon boat team of the Venetian Universities. But she hasn't always been at the helm of a boat “Back at home, my older sister (who found her way in the national team) and I started dragon boating for practice. Unfortunately, I had to stop racing when I broke my hand while cycling. However, my passion for the sport led me to explore alternative ways of staying involved. I learned the skill of steersman to have less pressure on my hand, and found the experience of being a steersman to be amazing. Since then, I have continued to race as a steersman and continue being on the sea because it gives me a sense of peace and joy.”

As the day of the race approaches, Zahra meticulously prepares herself both physically and mentally “My routine on competition days begins with a refreshing shower to feel ready for the challenge ahead. I prioritize rest and ensure I get enough sleep the night before the race. Additionally, I pay attention to my nutrition, fueling my body with healthy food that will provide the energy needed for the intense physical demands of dragon boat racing. Finding a balance between relaxation and focus is crucial, so I engage in calming activities such as listening to music or talking to a supportive friend.”

Looking ahead, Zahra plans to carry on with her studies and pursue a doctoral degree, while also maintaining her active lifestyle  “I like to utilize my language skills to immerse myself in diverse cultural environments. Additionally, I would like to continue my involvement in sports as it holds great significance in my life. Looking ahead, I hope to secure my dream job, combining my passion for language and cultural exploration.”

Francesca Favaro