Maria Toorpakay Wazir
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November 22, 1990|
Karak, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa
|Coached by||Jonathon Power|
|Highest ranking||No. 41 (December 2012)|
|Current ranking||No. 83 (Aug 2017)|
|Last updated on: 16 May 2016.|
Maria Toorpakay Wazir (Pashto: ماريه تورپېکۍ وزيره; Urdu: ماریہ تورپیکئی وزیر; b. November 22, 1990 in South Waziristan, FATA) is a professional Pakistani squash player. She dressed like a boy for the first 16 years of her life in order to participate in competitive sports as a Muslim girl, using the name Genghis Khan, fully supported by her Muslim parents.
After defeating boys in weightlifting at age 12, Toorpekai turned to squash and having to produce a birth certificate gave up pretending to be a boy. She became the first tribal Pakistani girl in international squash tournaments, turning professional in 2006. In August 2007, the President of Pakistan bestowed the Salaam Pakistan Award upon her. She was threatened by the Taliban and locked herself in her house for the following 3 years. In 2009, she won third place in the world junior women's squash championship. In 2011, she arrived in Toronto, Ontario, Canada to train with Jonathon Power. As of May 2016 she is ranked 56th among female players in the world.
Early life and education
Maria Toorpakay was born on November 22, 1990 in South Waziristan, a tribal region in northwest Pakistan, bordering Afghanistan. Her parents are teachers who are committed to women's rights despite the presence of the Taliban in the region. She credits her father's time spent with and learning from hippies visiting the area in his youth for his autodidactic education and supportive attitude toward women's education, which included education of her mother. Her father's name is Shamsul Qayum Wazir, also spelled Shamsul Qayyum Wazir. Her sister, Aisha Gulalai a Pakistani politician working to empower women in tribal areas.
As a child, Toorpakay loved to play outside, even though girls are not allowed to go outside the house in the highly conservative tribal area. At age 4, her parents allowed her to dress in boys' clothes and by age 7 she lived as a boy. Before fifth grade she burnt all her dresses. Her father saw parallels to his tomboy sister, who "just collapsed one day and he thought she died basically of a broken heart, because she wasn't allowed to live the life that she wanted to live."
In 2002, Toorpakay's father put her into weightlifting in Peshawar to "channel her negative energies" and introduced her with the name Genghis Khan. She trained and competed as a boy with the explicit support of her father. At age 12 she won a junior championship in Lahore, and managed to keep her clothes on for the mandatory weighing, because her brother refused to take off his clothes and created a protective precedent. She became captivated by squash after observing it, where she was weightlifting, and saw it as her next challenge. Her father took her to a squash academy and after needing to produce a birth certificate, gave up pretending that she was a boy. The truth about her gender leaked out, and she had neither training partners nor coach and trained by herself for hours. She was harassed and bullied by other players, boys and men.
In 2006, Toorpakay turned professional. As a female athlete who played without a veil and in shorts, her actions were perceived as "un-Islamic". It was in 2007, she recalls, two years before Malala Yousafzai was shot, that the Taliban threatened to kill her and her family. The Pakistani national squash federation provided security by "snipers around my house, all the way to the squash court and on the squash court". She recalls "There was a bomb blast every day. [...] terrible things [...] happening all around me."
Toorpakay decided it was safer for everyone if she found an opportunity to train internationally. She wrote to clubs, players, and schools and received no response; for three and a half years she "locked herself in a room in [her] house." She said she kept playing squash, hitting balls against her wall, until her neighbors complained one day. "I had to switch the wall. But I kept going". Eventually former professional squash player Jonathon Power replied and in 2011, she arrived to train in his academy in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
As of 2012[update] Toorpakay was ranked as Pakistan's top female squash player. In 2013, she was one of three Pakistani women in the top 200. and as of May 2016, she ranked 56th of female squash player in the world.
In 2013, she gave a speech for Tedxteen called 'Squashing Extremism'.
In late August 2007, at almost 17, she lost a five-game semi-final in the POF Women's International Squash Players Association Wah Cantt Open at the Jahangir Khan Squash Complex in Wah Cantt, Pakistan, missing out on a maiden appearance in a WISPA World Tour final; she was nominated as "Young Player of the Year 2007". In 2009, she won third place in the World Junior Women's Squash Championship. In October 2012 she won the first annual Voice of Hope Award from Canadian First Lady Laureen Harper.
Since 2011, Toorpakai has resided in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and has a home in Pakistan. She lives alone "but I don’t go out to party or drink, because I want to set a standard for the girls back home." In May 2016, she published her memoir, for which she was interviewed by Terry Gross on National Public Radio's Fresh Air.
Toorpakai is an advocate for women's rights in Pakistan to "overcome discrimination and cultural obstacles". She has set up a foundation encouraging families to educate girls and allow them to play sports.
She has said she hopes to get academic training in music.
- Maria Toorpakai (2016). A Different Kind of Daughter: The Girl Who Hid from the Taliban in Plain Sight. Twelve. p. 368. ISBN 1455591416. Excerpt
- Maria Toorpakai Wazir. TEDxTeen (video). 29 March 2013. Retrieved 26 March 2013.
- "Maria Toorpakay". Squashinfo.com. 16 May 2016. Retrieved 16 May 2016.
- Terry Gross (4 May 2016). To Play Sports Under Taliban Rule, 'Different Kind Of Daughter' Dressed As A Boy (Radio). Philadelphia: NPR, Fresh Air.
- "Maria Toorpakai: The Pakistani squash star who had to pretend to be a boy". BBC News Magazine. 20 March 2013. Retrieved 26 March 2013.
- Brigit Katz (8 May 2016). "Meet the Pakistani squash champion who disguised herself as a boy". Women In The World Media, LLC. Retrieved 10 May 2016.
- Zahid Gishkori (6 June 2013). "Inspired by Benazir, PTI's Aisha Gulalai seeks empowerment of tribal women". The Express Tribune Pakistan. Retrieved 16 May 2016.
- Sorcha Pollak (25 March 2013). "Pakistani Squash Player Fights For Women's Rights". Times. Retrieved 26 March 2013.
- Taneeya Hasan (4 December 2012). "Unsquashable: Trading volleys with Maria Toor Pakay". The Express Tribune. Retrieved 4 December 2012.
- James Montague (19 February 2013). "Squash star takes on the Taliban: 'Chosen one' fights for a cause". CNN. Retrieved 16 May 2016.
- "SQUASH - Delia Canters To Wah Cantt Success In Pakistan". Sports Features Communications. 28 August 2007. Retrieved 16 May 2016.
- Lauren Prince, Julie Cerullo (2 May 2016). "Maria Toorpakai Defied the Taliban to Become a Squash Champion". NBC News. Retrieved 16 May 2016.
- AFP (Sep 22, 2014). "Squash star Maria Toorpakay raises voice for equality". Dawn.com. Retrieved 16 May 2016.
- Isabella Biedenharn (4 March 2016). "Read a poignant excerpt from Maria Toorpakai's memoir". Entertainment weekly. Retrieved 16 May 2016.