Taking on the Taliban: Squash star pleads for rackets not guns

Story highlights

Pakistani Maria Toorpakai Wazir battled Taliban persecution to indulge her love of squash

The 22-year-old grew up in the ultra-conservative region near border with Afghanistan

Maria and her father suffered death threats for pursuing her dream of playing squash

She now is training with former world number one Jonathon Power at his academy in Canada

CNN  — 

At long last, Maria Toorpakai Wazir can indulge her life’s greatest love without fear of persecution.

Hounded out of the notoriously dangerous tribal region that borders Pakistan and Afghanistan – once referred to as “Hell’s door knocker” – salvation has been found thousands of miles away on a different continent.

She survived death threats, spent countless hours alone in her room and masqueraded as a boy for years.

And all for her love of squash.

Now Pakistan’s number one female player, who is ranked 53rd in the world, is homing in on her quest to become the best female player in the world, under the tutelage of Jonathon Power, the Canadian star whose name was inscribed on the first racket she ever owned.

It is a fairytale story that has taken the 22-year-old a world away from a treacherous existence in the mountains of Pakistan, to Power’s academy in Toronto, and morphed her into an agent for social change in her native country.

“I think positive and I do positive so I think people in Pakistan need to be educated, need to take part in sports and skills so they have high integrity, high self-esteem and so they use energy in a positive way,” she told CNN’s Human to Hero series.

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Female squash player fights for freedom
03:11 - Source: CNN

“They will start holding rackets and bats rather than holding guns and grenades. I don’t want militancy or Talibanisation – I just want a brighter future for all the kids. I don’t want them to end up as suicide bombers.”

Growing up in South Waziristan provided Wazir with a crash course in conservatism, a prevalent theme in a territory with a reputation for fierce tribalism.

Read: Kite rider: The girl who fought back from the brink

“It was an area in between mountains and mud houses and as it was 100 or 200 years ago,” she explained. “The girls are deprived of all those basic rights. They stay inside the home and get married off at a young age.

“My whole family was different to the rest of the people in the area – you could see the progress, the different mindset – but they were still living in the Stone Age.