KARACHI: “It is just Nargis, you can call me just that,” said the girl whose name has now been embossed in the history of Pakistan sports for becoming the first karateka to bag a medal at the Asian Games, and she feels her first name is enough to identify her.
Nargis won a bronze after defeating Nepal’s Rita Karki in the +68kg event, and hers was an unexpected victory. In face it came as a surprise for the Pakistan Olympic Association and the Pakistan Sports Board, the two governing bodies of the country, that usually do not send the equal number of male to female athletes.
But this medal was a long time coming for Nargis. She belongs to Pakistan’s persecuted Hazara community which has which has been a victim of terrorism for too long yet the youth within the community has intensified their drive to achieve more from almost nothing.
“When I was at the 2017 Islamic Games last time I lost in the semi-finals and that was something that hurt me the most,” Nargis told The Express Tribune. “At the Islamic Games, I was watching athletes winning the medals and going onto the podium with their country’s flags going up. I just wanted to be one of those medallists. I wanted Pakistan’s flag to be up there too. I wanted it so bad; I told myself back then that I would win a medal one day. The Asian Games just happened to be this opportunity, it was my chance.”
She explains that, mostly in her previous participations abroad, the biggest challenge was the mental strength and that is all she needs to win a medal.
“When we would go abroad, I would only observe athletes from other countries,” said Nargis. “I would look at their equipment that they train with, I would look at what they do to stay fit, I would see how much investment is made in them and it would always feel bad, like we were the have-nots as Pakistanis.
“After losing at the Islamic Games my coach told me to never feel this way, or cry even, instead I should keep this emotion at use it in the training to be fit and take it all out in the next competition. That is one advice I’ve followed. I thought I am no less than any other athlete in the competition. It is not about a male or female athlete, women can be more mentally strong. Karate is a very mentally challenging sport too, not just physical,” she added.
She said that Pakistan’s former Asian Karatedo champion Saadi Abbas, would guide her before the Asian Games and he is someone she looks up to.
“Two months ago he was telling me that I should never be intimidated or doubt my ability. I really want to fight like him,” said Nargis.
Nargis began her training in 2010 after receiving encouragement from her father, when she was barely 12 years old, at a local club in Hazara town Quetta with Sensei Ghulam Ali Hazara at the Hazara Shotokan Academy. Since then, karate has been a major part of her life.
She explains that karate is not just a sport for her, but a tool that gave her confidence to face life and grow from every experience.
“Karate is not a sport, to me it is a way of living, it is something that helped me with my self-confidence,” said Nargis. “I can go anywhere and not be afraid of anything. For example harassment outside, I know I can take down anybody who would cross the line. And it helps me expand myself as a person too with leadership skills, for example I go abroad because of this sport, and I learn to deal with people.”
The leadership skill has been something that Nargis feels made her more useful for her family too. “Now I come back and my father takes my advice too in making decisions at home, it is good to be like that,” said Nargis.
PHOTO COURTESY: NARGIS
At home she has a brother, a 10-year-old sister and another two-year-old sister who tries to train for karate.
“Two of my siblings are into karate, now even my youngest sister sees it too, it feels great now that they have an example to follow,” said Nargis.
Nargis made her first appearance at the national championships in 2011, which she won in the –45kg category and then there was no looking back for her.
“I never skipped any national championships because I wanted to compete,” said Nargis. “Persistence is the key. I wanted to represent the country abroad too. I self-finance participation abroad too.”
Nargis has also just finished her intermediate education and she feels that she can make a career as a karateka. In fact, she even saved her stipend that she would get from Wapda so she could compete in Dubai at the Al-Ahli Karate Premier League in 2016.
Now Wapda have contacted her to assure their support after she came back with an Asiad bronze.
Nargis feels things are changing now for her and the first instance is the change in attitude of the people in her community.
“Before this, sometimes women would come to my mother and tell her that I shouldn’t go for karate like this, but now when I returned from Jakarta, those same women brought their daughters with them and asked me to take them along the next time for training. This is huge for me that I have done something with my life,” said Nargis.
She recalled that upon her return to the school, children would be on the road to receive her; girls among them.
In Hazara community, she feels the aptitude for staying fit had always been there, but it has extended to girls too in the last five years.
“We like to stay fit, everyone is very much into sports, I like badminton besides karate, it is a part of our lives,” said Nargis. “But now the elders don’t mind if the girls are playing outside too. Now they want us to train, now they don’t worry about our safety as much, and that is a good trend. We are learning to protect ourselves as women.”
Nargis believes that she can qualify for the 2020 Olympics but will support and the teenager wants to improve her international rankings in order to do so. If she manages to qualify for the Olympics, it will be historical in more ways than one.
Tokyo Summer Olympics are featuring karate in the program for the first time.
“I’m excited, and I want to compete at the Olympics,” said Nargis. “I will need to improve my international rankings, I will need to participate in more international events and leagues to do that, and that is the aim now.”