Heroes are those phenomenal people, who apart from being devoted, gallant and persistent have the element of extraordinaire excellence. But where legacy of a person becomes a source of inspiration, there, birth of a hero is evident.
How did Maria became what she is today is a story that we must narrate to our fellow countrymen.
She hails from one of the most volatile regions of Pakistan, South Waziristan. Her father, Shamsul Qayyum Wazir is a tribal leader and comes from a very prominent political family of SW. Despite being a part of an ultra-conservative Pashtun society, he is a strong advocate of women’s equal rights and education.
At the age of four, when Maris’s parents were out, she burnt all her girly clothes and cut her hair short. She wore her brother’s clothes and went out to play. When her father discovered this, he got amused and named her “Changez Khan” (Genghis Khan) She completely disguised herself as a guy and used to play outdoors with her brother’s friends. Only her family and close relatives knew that she was a girl, for the world out of her comfort zone, she was Genghis Khan.
In 2001, Shamsul Qayyum Wazir, decided to shift from SW to Peshawer, Maria, with her parents, three brothers and two sisters came to the capital of KPK. When Shams noticed her phenomenal and healthy growth, which was resulting in to increased bralws with boys in and around her circle, he decided to put her energies in a positive direction. Sports were the best option; Shams thought for a few days and decided to enroll her as a boy in weight lifting academy, covering her true identity to provide her girl a chance to bring out her best.
Thus the tale of surprises started, Maria, a girl, won the Weightlifting Championship in Lahore in boys’ category. She ranked number two in Pakistan for weightlifting in the junior division.
During her break from weight lifting, Maria with her brother often sneaked into nearby squash courts and used to enter the courts whenever possible, while trying her hands on the game all by herself. She loved hitting the ball. Entering the courts gave her a new dream; and Squash it was, she took the decision to live it, and then from there she never turned back.
She went to PAF squash academy seeking an admission. Her secret was revealed when the director asked to produce the birth certificate. The director was so much pleased that finally a girl had come to play that he gifted her racquet with Jonathan Power’s signature on it, same Jonathan who became her mentor to glory.
When other people at the academy came to know about her true identity they started picking up on her and started bullying her. She somehow managed her training sessions in odd timings in presence of minimum crowd.
A 12 years old girl, with financial constraints, a used track suit and worn out shoes, started her journey towards her destination. She used to lock herself in the court and practiced 10 hours a day. By the age of 16 she lived and breathes training of Squash. This hard work, dedication and consistency, resulted into realization of her dreams. At the age of 16, she won her first milestone, securing a bronze medal in world’s junior championship. She was ranked third in the under nineteen category and also managed to enter in the top 80 category of World Senior Ranking. Things started falling in line, Prime Minister and President of Pakistan also gave her awards of recognition.
Being a part of KPK and FATA, Maria soon became the victim of threats by TTP. Threats were issued and she was forced to contain herself inside her home, hitting the ball to an empty wall of her home, all day long. But she never backed down.
Maria wrote to the clubs, colleges, schools and other institution around the world, to give her a chance and take her as a student, so that she may continue her dream at best available facilities. For long nobody replied and on the other end patience of Maria never ended. One day, she received a reply. It was from the same person, whose signature was there on her very first racquet; Jonathan Power called Maria Toorpakai Wazir.
At the age of 12, Jonathan was sent to London to train under the mentorship of the finest legend this game has ever produced, Jahangir Khan. Perhaps it was time to pay a humble homage to his mentor’s legacy by taking Maria under his wings.
In Toronto Maria now trains in the academy of this renowned veteran of Squash, living the dream of her life.
The inspiration amplifies when one comes to know about the real dream of Maria. Squash was perhaps her means to the end. Maria is dedicatedly working on a project, that she calls Only One Girl Foundation, using her fame and network; she is determined to illuminate the light of under privileged girls around the globe. Like teacher, like student, her coach, Jonathan Power also shares her ideology. Her father, the real Hero of Maria’s life once said: “There can be a thousand Marias”.
The journey of 24-year-old Maria Toorpakai Wazir is anything but tale of such a legacy. From a tomboy of South Waziristan to Pakistan’s 1st and world’s 48th squash player, Maria is now a phenomenon of struggle and inspiration.
Someone once said and I quote: “Sometimes life is about risking everything for a dream that no one can see but you”.
From South Waziristan, Maria Toorpaka Wazir is a living image of this quote.
Well Done Maria!!