Pakistani squash star Maria Toorkapai asks the College to ‘speak up’

On Nov. 12 in the first annual Chucktown Talks event hosted by Chucktown Squash, Maria Toorkapai Wazir imparted her inspiring tale of the life-changing journey the game of squash has taken her on.

Maria Torkapai Wazir playing squash (all photos courtesy of mariatoorkapai.org)

Maria Torkapai Wazir playing squash (All photos courtesy of mariatoorkapai.org)

Chucktown Squash itself is an after-school program that started in 2010 with the primary goal of helping underprivileged youth, often with the help of volunteers consisting of many of CofC’s own students.  Youth involved with Chucktown Squash have been proven to improve academically and in practicing the sport of squash gain the ability to inherit values like dedication, self-determination and teamwork.

Squash is a sport in which either two individuals or two competing pairs must alternately strike a small rubber ball inside of a court. Squash players must take turns hitting the ball with their racquets before consequently hitting the ball onto playable parts of the four-walled court. The game is incredibly fast-paced and takes an intense amount of precision and focus.

A self-described “tomboy’’ Wazir, with encouragement from her mother, shaved her head and burnt all of her female clothes in order to disguise herself as a boy, affording numerous freedoms unavaible to girls such as the ability to compete in sporting events. 

A young Maria, disguised as a boy, standing with her mother and younger brother

A young Maria, disguised as a boy, standing with her mother and younger brother (Photo courtesy of mariatoorkapai.org)

 

 

 

Quickly rising amongst the ranks, she soon became a decorated, accomplished junior weightlifter under the male alias “Changez Khan” (after Genghis Khan) before deciding to move onto her true passion, squash. Squash is extremely important in Pakistan and is the second biggest sport in the nation after Cricket. 

In her speech, she fondly described the pastime as being an escape from societal persecution. Growing up originally in South Waziristan, an environment that discourages females from even leaving their homes without male supervision, Wazir would play the game for “hours and hours” on end honing her craft. In conveying her love of the sport, Wazir relays the squash court as being a type of second home, and a place where she belonged. 

Wazir also fondly described memories of her father, whom she referred to as a bit of a “rebel.” In educating Wazir’s mother, something seen as aberrational in Pakistan, and in teaching Wazir and her siblings of equality, he served as a true role model and a basis for which she could model herself off of as someone able to speak out on the many issues women still face today.

Maria’s father, Shamsul Quayyam Wazir, speaking about women’s rights (Photo courtesy of mariatoorkapai.org)

Facing fierce opposition from Pakistani society and even threats from the Taliban because of her status as a female squash player, Wazir was eventually able to persist and continued to work harder competing in squash tournaments and events all over the world and cementing herself as one of the game’s elite players.

Now a Canadian citizen, in continuing to practice her passion and speaking about her life, Wazir hopes to keep at the her mission of empowering young women across the globe and encouraging others to become empathetic and independent thinkers who may bring about positive change within society. In telling her story, Wazir acts as an inspiration for girls and for young people all across the globe. “Everyone has a destiny,” Wazir says. “You’ve just got to speak up.”

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