The Current

Squash champion Maria Toorpakai disguised herself as a boy to play sports in Pakistan

Maria Toorpakai grew up in Pakistan's tribal area known as Waziristan where all girls are taught to get in line. She never did. Now Toorpakai is a squash champion living in Toronto. She shares her story of defiance and determination for the love of sport.
When Maria Toorpakai was just over four-years-old, she burned all her dresses. Living in disguise helped Toorpakai, realize her athletic dreams. (Penguin Random House Canada)

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Maria Toorpakai grew up in Pakistan's tribal area known as Waziristan where all girls are taught to get in line. She never did. Toorpaki shares her story of defiance and determination for the love of sport in the book, A Different Kind of Daughter: The Girl Who Hid From The Taliban in Plain Sight.

(Carrie Lee)

It's been a long journey from Pakistan to Toronto for the elite athlete. When Maria Toorpakai was a young girl in South Waziristan, Pakistan, she longed to play sports with the boys. "I had a lot fun as a boy in the tribal areas," says Toorpakai.

But in a fundamentalist part of Pakistan, her dream could have easily led to death. 

Maria Toorpakai with legendary Pakistani squash player Qamar Zaman at the 2004 Asian Games in Malaysia. (Courtesy of Penguin Random House Canada)

Instead, Maria Toorpakai overcame restrictions on girls and women by disguising herself, and living publicly as a boy. She went on to become Pakistan's number one ranked female squash player.

Toorpaki hopes people in Pakistan will learn from her experience and says "the strongest man is he who empowers a woman."

This segment was produced by The Current's Howard Goldenthal.

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