Saleem Raza is a man who has defied the odds.
He is a man who has seen dreams changing, grappled with fate, and emerged victorious. Today, Raza, who once aspired to be a national cricketer, stands as the disabled world golf champion.
“I was always desperate to do something for my country in the realm of sports,” he says firmly. “[Now] I have. This is a whole new life for me. I am a firm believer that it never ends [the competition], not until you die.”
Of first love
Raza, 46, who hails from Gujranwala, recently won the World Disabled Golf [Team] Championship in Glasgow, Scotland, finally achieving his milestone to make a name for Pakistan at a global level.
However, golf wasn’t his first love – cricket was.
“Many predicted a very bright future in cricket for me,” he recalls. “I was promising and hardworking, and was rising with each passing day.”
Raza played extensively at the university and grade II level with those who actually ended up playing Test cricket for Pakistan in the 1980s and early 1990s. Fellow cricketers observed his similarities to Wasim Akram, and many even touted him as a better Southpaw all-rounder than the legendary Akram.
Unfortunately, fate had other plans – in 1996, at the young age of 26, Raza met with a serious car accident and was left severely injured, with fractures in his pelvis, hip bones and legs.
Changing dreams, changing game plans
After the life-altering accident, Raza remained bed ridden for two long years, and was reduced to limping. Even more jarring was the pronouncement that he would never be able to play cricket again.
“Being a sports fanatic, I was heartbroken,” he says, the memories of that time still painful. “The day I regained consciousness after the tragedy, I started praying to God to help me return to sport – any sport if not cricket.” His steadfast determination paid off as he turned towards golf.
“I developed an interest in golf during my treatment years, watching it on television,” he explains. “Then, I went to a golf course soon after recovering.”
Internationally recognised, locally unsung
Today, Raza is a renowned figure at the world disabled golf circuit. And yet, at home, he feels underappreciated still.
Raza got to know about the Glasgow championship and managed to participate as an individual in the team event.
“There were over 72 golfers from various countries, including the United States and England, and I came first,” he states proudly.
After this, he accepted an invitation to a championship in Sweden, where he finished sixth. Now, he has been invited to World Disabled Championship in Japan next year.
“And yet, not a single government’s dignitary greeted me. A reward is a far cry,” he laments. “Because of this attitude of not appreciating sportsmen, Pakistan is facing a continuous decline in sports.”
Rich man’s land
Golf has always been considered a rich man’s sport.
Raza adopted the profession of an herbalist to earn his livelihood, but it wasn’t enough to bear his sport expense.
“I started borrowing money from friends the day I started regular golf in 2007,” he says simply. “I am from a humble background and definitely need assistance. Furthermore, I deserve appreciation for what I achieved under the circumstances I am faced. Today, my payables are in millions.”
Published in The Express Tribune, August 18th, 2013.