Nadia Nadim remembers the moment she fell in love with football.
She was in Denmark when she saw some girls kicking a ball around on a field, uninhibited.
“That’s the first time I got to see that girls actually did play football at the schools. And right away, I fell in love with the game,” the 33-year-old soccer star tells CNN’s Becky Anderson.
“Since then, I’ve never really left the ball.”
Across her prolific 16-year career, Nadim has earned success after success, having represented Denmark’s women’s football team since 2009.
She recently signed with NWSL club Racing Louisville FC in June on the back of a two year spell with Paris Saint-Germain – where she contributed to the team’s first ever league title, finally breaking Lyon’s 14-year grip on the championship.
“We won the league for the first time in the club’s history and it was amazing. Probably one of the biggest achievements. And then it was time for me to move on and try to find new challenges,” she says.
But Nadim’s glittering accomplishments are borne from strife.
When she was 11, her father was murdered by the Taliban, and so she was forced to evacuate her birth country of Afghanistan alongside her mother and four sisters.
They fled to Pakistan, before settling in a refugee camp in Denmark.
“My mom sold everything she had. We had found a human smuggler, brought us out to Pakistan. And from Pakistan, with fake passports, we were transported to first, Italy, and then kind of trucked to Denmark,” Nadim says.
“I always say it’s probably a bit of fate because the refugee camp that I was staying in in Denmark was just beside these amazing football fields and a football club.”
READ: ‘I was only thinking of staying alive’: Nadia Nadim’s journey from refugee camp to PSG star … and back
History repeating itself
Despite her harrowing journey, Nadim counts herself lucky that she was able to escape the Taliban’s rule as a young girl.
“We were probably among the more fortunate ones,” she says.
Images of the last US military planes leaving Afghanistan, and the Taliban subsequently taking over Kabul in August, have triggered “vivid memories” for Nadim.
“Before the Taliban, we had a great life, a safe environment. My mom and dad provided the best life for us possible,” she says. “All that time was a life with a lot of fear and really just trying to survive.”
As history repeats itself, she says she feels “sad” and “very confused.”
“At the beginning, I wasn’t really understanding what was happening. It felt like a deja vu. And I’ve never really thought that we will come back to this,” she says.
“I couldn’t understand it. And it was upsetting to see how they’re gaining more power. And now that they’re actually running the country.
“It makes me upset, makes me angry. I don’t think they deserve it. I don’t think that a terrorist group should have that much power.”
‘It’s so upsetting’
Nadim has recently seen her own story reflected back at her, in the journeys that many Afghan women athletes have undertaken by having to flee their own country, in order to find refuge elsewhere.
Ex-Afghanistan national women’s football team assistant coach Haley Carter helped organize an emergency coalition with Khalida Popal, the team’s former captain, to airlift 86 Afghan athletes, officials and family members out of the country to safety in August.
“I know the women’s football national team, most of them got out,” Nadim says of the operation. “I’m happy they did because if they [Taliban] found out that these girls were doing something that the Talibans are so much against, their life will be in danger.”
In a similar turn of events, 41 Afghan evacuees, including 25 members of the Afghan girls’ cycling team, arrived in the United Arab Emirates on Monday, where they are being processed before traveling to Canada – a journey they made for fear of the treatment they may receive from the Taliban if they were to stay in the country.
The trepidation they feel from existing as women athletes in a Taliban-governed Afghanistan isn’t misplaced.
Earlier this month, Ahmadullah Wasiq – deputy head of the Taliban’s cultural commission – told Australia’s SBS News that Afghan women should not play cricket and other sports in which they would be “exposed.”
“In cricket, they might face a situation where their face and body will not be covered. Islam does not allow women to be seen like this,” Wasiq said to SBS News.
“It doesn’t harm anyone. You were just having fun. You’re just enjoying yourself. You’re actually trying to improve your health, trying to learn. Why is it a bad thing?,” Nadim says when asked about the Taliban’s stance on women playing sports.
“I don’t understand it. It doesn’t make any sense in my brain. And then that’s that kind of people who have the power to run a country. What does that say about the country? And where does that leave the country’s future? […] It’s so upsetting.”