“I can take part in the competition even with my broken wrist. Please let me compete,” insisted 15-year old Ifra Wali, who had arrived in India with a 27-member ski team to represent Pakistan in the first South Asian Winter Games.
In Auli, a ski resort in India’s Uttarkhand state, Ifra was practicing along with her elder sister Amina, 17, when she broke her wrist.
“Go to the hospital with the Pakistani officials,” I told her. “If you’re fit, I’ll make sure you participate in the competition.”
But when the doctor announced that she had fractured her left hand and needed a plaster, Ifra and the entire Pakistani contingent were shell-shocked. She had dreamt about competing with international players in a big international competition and was over the moon when she was selected to participate in the South Asian Winter Games. We had all expected Ifra to win medals for the country. Now that possibility seemed remote at best.
But Ifra was adamant that she could perform in spite of her broken wrist. When the medical report finally arrived, it confirmed that her left wrist was cracked and this only served to heighten the team management’s confusion. On the one hand, we were losing our star performer; on the other, we couldn’t risk exacerbating her injury. Finally I, being the team manager, along with Naeem Sohail, the coach, called her father Col Wali who was in Islamabad and explained the situation. He left the decision entirely upto Ifra, saying that if she was willing then she may be allowed to participate.
Finally, the team captain Adeeba Junaidi decided that Ifra should be allowed to participate. On hearing about her selection Ifra was overjoyed. “Believe me, I will do something for my country even with this plaster on my left hand!” she vowed.
The next morning the team was apprehensive about Ifra’s hand, which was covered with plaster. We asked her if she felt up to the competition and with great courage, she assured us that she was in no pain and that she would manage. The competition started and she completed the first run successfully. On the final run, she made history - not only had she beaten all the other players of South Asian countries, including Indian national champions and her own team members with a big margin, but she won Pakistan’s first ever gold medal in any international skiing mega event.
Her elder sister Amina Wali came second and Indian national champion and hot favourite, Miss Preity came third.
Amina said that before the competition started Ifra was upset but every member of the team including Adeeba Junaidi and young Fatima Sohail raised her morale: “She was determined to win the gold and Allah has awarded her the same.”
Ifra told the Indian reporters: “I am overjoyed as my dream has come true. I’ve won the first gold for my country and that too in India where success is sweeter.”
“Yes I was worried about my broken wrist and could not sleep well due to the pain,” she added. “But I was determined to do something for my country and I thank Allah and my teammates,” she said proudly.
Hailing from Naltar in Gilgit-Baltistan, the home of the winter games, young Ifra is a student of Class X at The Army Public School in Gilgit. She started skiing when she was just four and was the children national champion for seven consecutive years, collecting six gold, four bronze and three silver medals. At the Asian Children Games in Korea, she got fourth position. Amina too got international training from Japan, Korea and Austria.
“Before the game started, I never thought about my fracture as I was only concentrating on the competition. When I crossed the finish line, I heard people cheering my victory and I can’t tell you my feelings,” said Ifra. “When the Indian federal minister for sports gave me a gold medal and double silver to my sister Amina, the national anthem played and Indian jawans saluted the soaring Pakistan flag — those were the happiest moments of my life. I will never forget that day.”
Currently, PAF is assisting the Ski Federation in Pakistan but more facilities need to be extended in Naltar and Malam Jabba. If a few resorts are built at skiing places, both the sport as well as tourism will benefit. The Civil Aviation authority has been active in this regard, and has given proper training to school kids for skiing. The air chief also gave Rs500,000 to each Pakistani medalist after the South Asian Winter Games.
Amina and Mir Nawaz Junior of the national ski team who clinched one silver and one bronze medal are also of the view that a lift and repaired road are the main necessities for Naltar. “If the government repairs the damaged road and proper funds are allocated for a new ski lift, then Naltar can become the next international hub for winter games,” they said.
People who work in the sector are of the view that the government of Pakistan and Gilgit-Baltistan should come forward and promote this great winter game. “We can produce dozens of Olympians like Abbas for the country who can compete against any international ski player of the world,” says Mussarat Ali, secretary-general of the Ski Federation of Pakistan. “The federation, with the help of PAF, has registered almost 150 children and they are now ready for necessary training. Some government departments like CAA and the Navy have shown interest in taking them in their teams. If this happens then I am sure they can form the future national team,” he says.
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, April 24th, 2011.
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