Faiza Iqbal is an innocuous-looking fighter: She is of a fragile frame, her eyes don’t look all that threatening and she has a resident smile on her face as she looks at her ‘normal‘ opponents who unlike her can hear and speak.
She personifies Mohammad Ali’s ‘fly like a butterfly, sting like a bee’ as she aims to add to her medals tally.
“I’m better off without my tongue,” the 20-year-old joked as her coach Mohammad Siddiq interpreted her sign language. “With my taekwondo skills, I get everything done my way anyway.”
Faiza was extremely animated after winning the flyweight gold medal at the 2012 Sindh Games despite being no stranger to podiums.
She is a two time national champion as well as the National Games gold medallist. Her opponents call her a ‘silent warrior’, unpredictable and lightening fast.
“I’ve been training since I was six,” Faiza raised her little hands to make it clear. “And I got my black belt when I was 13.”
Lack of financial resources at home
Iqbal lives in Karachi’s trouble-hit area of Orangi with her seven siblings. Her father worked at the Sindh High Court as a peon, which meant that they never had enough resources to put her into a school that caters to children with special needs.
Faiza did manage to attend a government school to complete her matriculation but it was never the books that helped her bag a job as a teacher but her passion for taekwondo.
The sport allowed her to become her father’s ‘son’ and do something that brought her joy as she helped take care of her paralysed mother.
“I teach cricket and taekwondo. I’m a better teacher to these normal kids because, instead of wasting time with words, I go directly for the action.”
Coach singles out Faiza as her best student
The coach obliged, listening to her carefully and then saying that he discovered Faiza when she was six, ensuring she became the first deaf and dumb athlete in Pakistan to compete with the ‘normal’ athletes.
He picked Faiza along with 60 other deaf and dumb children in 1997 but she was the only one with extraordinary skills and intelligence to understand the rules and techniques faster than others.
“Faiza’s like a daughter to me and I learnt a lot about life while training her,” said the coach. “It has been challenging but watching her win the national championships in 2008 and 2010 was worth all the effort.
Even at the Sindh Games, I could see her opponents scared of her. She’s very quick, her movements are clean and she’s better than most of my normal students.”
Meanwhile, one of Faiza’s students at Government Girls High School in Orangi, Umema Fatima, said that she is a tough teacher who refuses to accept a lousy move during fights.
“I have known my teacher for a year now and she’s just amazing,” said Fatima. “She’s achieved so much. I’m ashamed to say that I was one of the people who made fun of her in the beginning. But now I am her biggest fan.”
Meanwhile, in the fighting arena, after winning her sixth Sindh Games gold medal, Faiza’s next step is to start her own club.
She added that she still wants to take part in an international taekwondo championship which, according to her coach, was impossible.
“International events don’t allow people with special needs to participate in the main event.
I tried to explain this to her but she doesn’t understand. She still believes that it’s possible to compete in the Asian Taekwondo Championships.”
The dream that she has been living from the age of six till now, however, lives on.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 8th, 2012.