This is an incredible story, one that weaves so many layers. It exemplifies why sport can be powerful for marginalized people, and the challenges that women face when they defy social norms.
Her name is Maria Toorpakai and she was born in Pakistan to progressive parents who encouraged and accepted her individuality. Since age 4, she posed as a boy in order to live the life that felt authentic to her. When in her teens she began to train as a squash player and compete. However, when people found out her gender of birth she was forced to live as a girl and participate in girls’ tournaments. When she became the number one female squash player in Pakistan, the Taliban threatened her with death as they disapproved of her participation in sport.
As a result, she escaped to Toronto in 2011 where has been living and training as a competitive squash player. Drawing on her tournament winnings she is privately funding a hospital in Pakistan and hopes to help local women and children resist the oppression they are facing from militants.
Toorpakai’s story has been documented in A Different Kind of Daughter: The Girl Who Hid From the Taliban in Plain Sight. She recently spoke with National Public Radio about her story as part of her promotional tour for the book. To learn more about Maria Toorpakai visit her website or at the very least read her book and experience the profound bravery of her choices.