Maria Toorpakai Wazir is a top ranked squash player in a region of the world where girls aren’t allowed to participate in sports. To play, she disguised herself as a boy.
"I was born in Waziristan, Pakistan, a remote region commonly referred to as the “most dangerous place on earth. Girls rarely go to school and certainly don’t place sports. But, I grew up differently from other girls. At the age of four, I burnt all her dresses, cut my hair, put on my brother’s clothes and began to live life as a boy. My father, a strong advocate for equal rights and opportunities for men and women, pushed tradition aside and allowed me to live disguised in order to flourish as an athlete. When I was 12 years old, still disguised as a boy, I was ranked #2 in all of Pakistan for weightlifting in the junior division. Then I discovered squash. When the local squash academy in Peshawar required a birth certificate, my true identity was revealed. Fortunately the director shared the same values as my father and handed me a racquet."
Soon after Maria started competing in Pakistan she and her family received viable death threats from the Taliban and it was no longer safe for Maria to compete. Maria couldn’t even leave her family’s home. For 3 years Maria, trapped inside her home, hit a ball against her bedroom wall and never gave up hope. She sent thousands of emails to people around the world asking for help to leave Pakistan. One day her prayer was answered. Jonathan Power, former world #1, asked her to come to Toronto and train with him. Maria has been living and training in Canada and is now ranked number 47th in the world. – Maria still plays for Pakistan!
"Most of the time when I reflect on my life, I don’t believe it. I was born a regular tribal girl unable to leave the house and today I am a professional squash player. My family has been my greatest support. My father’s love, friendship and teachings helped me navigate through a world of oppression. Even Taliban death threats couldn’t stop me. Today I am happy and living my dream. I overcame fear and didn’t compromise. I am stronger than ever before and more determined to bring positive change to the world through education, sports and healthcare."
Maria's father says he is grateful his daughter can pursue squash again. If she becomes world champion, he says, it will set an example for women in all Muslim countries. He wants his daughter to show the world the moderate face of the tribal people and be a role model for Pashtun girls and women. He says, if given the right opportunities, "There could be a thousand Maria's."
"An eagle knows his true ability that can touch & limit the skies and fly the highest but its human who describe him to the limits of his sight..."
The Maria Toorpakai Foundation's application for 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status is pending before the IRS. The Foundation is currently accepting contributions at this time, which will be tax-deductible to the fullest extent allowable under the law.
Checks can be sent to:
The Maria Toorpakai Foundation, Inc.
1632 First Avenue
New York, NY 10028