Pashtun Squash Sensation made me think...
It has been about 2 months since I joined the Daybreak crew at CBC. I recently was able to speak with a Pakistani Squash player brought to Canada to train by Canadian squash legend Jonathan Power. 20 year old Maria Toor Pakay grew up in the tribal area near the Afghanistan border where it is frowned upon, (putting it lightly) to educate girls and most certainly playing sports is out of the question.
I am incredibly grateful for the chance to speak with Pakay and the interview certainly made its mark on me. Tucked inside a CBC recording studio I reached Pakay by phone just after practice in Toronto. Her clear confident voice came down the line and she proceeded to tell me about growing up pretending to be a boy for the first 11 years so she could go out and play rough and tumble without fear of repercussions. In an effort to make his rambunctious daughter happy and burn off some of her seemingly endless energy her father put her in weightlifting under a boys name. She won a boys weightlifting competition then began to pick up squash. Her family eventually moved out of the war torn region and into Peshawar. Pakay continued to play squash, often training for hours by herself. Her obvious talent made it impossible to contain the secret and Pakay and her father eventually came clean that she was, in fact, a girl. International tournaments followed and within 2 years she was Pakistans number 1 female squash player.
The added exposure however made things difficult at home. Her family was still threatened due to her fathers support of her athletic endeavors so instead of giving up the sport she loved, Pakay began writing. From 16-19 Pakay wrote hundreds of letters to squash training centers across the globe looking for a job in exchange to train. Power was the only one to respond. 6 weeks ago Pakay arrived in Toronto and now trains at Power's new National Squash Academy in Toronto with Power giving me his personal guarantee that she would one day be world champion.
Why did this interview affect me so much? Why did I have to remind myself I was a professional as my words caught in my throat when I spoke to her? I could not shake the feeling that this could be me. Save the good fortune I had to be born in Canada. Never once growing up did I consider how lucky I was that I could throw on shorts and a t shirt and go to the park in search of a pick-up game. Never once did I think it was unusual for a girl to play sports or be a tom-boy. I took so many things for granted and this young woman overcame so much just to do something that makes her happy and for which she is clearly gifted. Needless to say I will be following her journey and will be sure to let you know when she does close a chapter of her amazing squash career and become the World Champion.