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How kayaking brought Arezou Motamedi from Iran to Oklahoma City

The five-day Oklahoma Regatta Festival will bring hundreds of rowers and paddlers to Oklahoma City. None of them have a story quite like Arezou Motamedi.
by Jenni Carlson Modified: October 2, 2013 at 10:00 pm •  Published: October 1, 2013

photo - Arezou Motamedi practicing for the Oklahoma Regatta on the Oklahoma River in Oklahoma City Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2013.  Photo by Paul B. Southerland, The Oklahoman  PAUL B. SOUTHERLAND - PAUL B. SOUTHERLAND
Arezou Motamedi practicing for the Oklahoma Regatta on the Oklahoma River in Oklahoma City Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2013. Photo by Paul B. Southerland, The Oklahoman PAUL B. SOUTHERLAND - PAUL B. SOUTHERLAND

She reached out to Shaun Caven, the center's director.

After meeting at a competition in Hungary, Caven decided to bring Motamedi into the program. She would have to take an English proficiency test, but once she passed, she would go to graduate school at Oklahoma City University, work at the boathouse and live with one of the other kayakers.

Motamedi was issued a green card and began preparing for her move to the United States.

Because she knew no English, she sought out one of the few sources of the language in Iran.

Reruns of “Friends”.

By the time Motamedi came to the U.S., she was actually able to understand some English. But she had no experience reading or writing it — her native language, Farsi, actually reads the opposite way, going from right to left — so she spent several months studying English before she took her proficiency test.

“And she was disappointed because she got something like 89 or 92 percent,” Caven said. “I don't think I could get 92 percent.”

He laughed.

“In fact, I'm positive I couldn't.”

Now, Motamedi, who has a bachelor's degree architectural engineering, is a full-time MBA student at OCU. She admits that reading and writing English can still be a struggle in master's level classes.

“But it's good,” she said. “I like learning new things. I like to be busy.”

She is that. In addition to school and work, the 24-year-old trains for two or three hours twice a day.

The results have been obvious. Her 500-meter time was 2 minutes, 16 seconds when she arrived in last summer. In a little over year, she has shaved 20 seconds off that time.

It was enough to earn a spot on Team USA. Given a release by the Iranian kayak federation, she had to wait a year before competing for the U.S., but earlier this summer at the International Canoe Federation World Championships in Germany, she wore the red, white and blue for the first time.

“That was one of my dreams coming here,” she said.

Caven said, “It was good to see her represent the country. I don't think that's the end of her representation.

“I don't think she's anywhere near her potential level.”

Motamedi cannot compete for the U.S. in the Olympics or in Olympic qualifiers. Only U.S. citizens are allowed to do so. But Motamedi hopes to meet that qualification some day.

She wants to become a U.S. citizen.

It would be another amazing chapter in already amazing her story.

“She could've come here and bombed. She could've gotten overwhelmed,” Caven said. “When you think about what she's actually done, it's pretty remarkable.”

Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at (405) 475-4125. Like her at, follow her at or view her personality page at

by Jenni Carlson
Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football...
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