Squash prodigy flees Taliban for Toronto

Toronto Star – August 13, 2011

 

Maria Toorpakai Wazir picked up a squash racquet at age 12 in rural Pakistan and discovered her talent for the game, she was in another kind of fight entirely. That’s when the death threats started. Not long after she went pro, her father found a letter on the windshield of his car. He says it was from the Taliban. It said he must make his daughter stop playing.

Since March, Toorpakai has been living in Toronto, training with Canada’s own squash legend, Jonathon Power. He says Toorpakai will soon be the best in the world. Her father has been long deplored by other tribal men for his ideas about equality. He believes everyone is invested with talent and in tribal women in Pakistan, it’s going to waste. In Toorpakai’s family, both daughters were home-schooled. But from the time her older sister was 8 years old, custom dictated that she stay indoors. Toorpakai, on the other hand, more closely resembled her four brothers, so the family acted as if it had five sons.

“At first I was brave,” she says. “But the more I came to learn about these things, it’s the biggest dishonour to the family if somebody kidnaps your girl. If it happened, my father would never be able to lift his hand. So I stayed at home.” Unable to properly train during her late teens, Toorpakai has fallen in the rankings since her peak in 2008. She is currently 179th worldwide. But Power believes she has what it takes to be the best.