Now Reading: The Inspirational Story of Insha Afsar – Pakistan’s Paralympic Skier Who Lost A Leg in 2005 Earthquake
It is clear from looking into the past that the nations who don’t have heroes to look up to fail to make their names in history and eventually vanquish i.e. simply fading away as time goes on. These heroes are the ones whose ability to act wisely in the times of adversity and such is relied upon and serves as a beacon for future generations, who then lead again and set examples for their next generations.
Luckily, Pakistan’s history hasn’t been at a loss of heroes and is continued to be blessed by said assets since 1947. Such a hero is Insha Afsar, the 16 year old girl who represented Pakistan in the 2018 Paralympics. Her story is an example of how when you are truly driven, you can push through anything the world throws at you. Her tale is truly an inspirational one that motivates us to follow our dreams as wild passion is what makes the impossible, possible.
Insha’s Early Struggles
Insha’s early efforts to pursue skiing was full of struggles. For Asfar’s family, it was not an easy pill to swallow that their daughter was going to become a sportswoman. However, they did support her decision to pursue skiing as a full fledged profession.
During an interview, Asfar said, “I come from a place where it’s not common for a woman to be an athlete. Coming to the US and then pursuing a sport that I love, that might inspire people to come forward and do what they want to do, despite what’s holding them back.”
Though where her struggle truly began was when Insha Asfar was just six years old in 2005 as a 7.6 magnitude earthquake struck when the northern areas of Pakistan, taking the lives of 75,000 people and uprooting three million others. Despite the horror, it was only the events of that day that started Insha’s life off on a trajectory towards the other side of the world and a skiing career she never could have imagined prior to the tragedy.
She was at school when the earthquake struck, collapsing the building and trapping her under the rubble, causing her to lose her right leg. A year after the devastating earthquake, TIME magazine sent a photographer to Pakistan to cover the incident’s aftermath. At the time, a little girl in a red coat standing on crutches, surrounded by the sad sight of a refugee camp, caught the attention of thousands of readers, as well as a member of the Shriners.
The Journey Begins
Several weeks later after the world saw this sight, the Shriners and TIME magazine arranged for Insha and her father to take the first of their several trips to the United States in order to help her get fitted for a new prosthesis. It was on this trip in 2007 where they first met Rebecca Lambert and Todd Bent. who then went on to sponsor Insha and her father various times before offering them a more permanent home for Insha’s school year if she chose to continue her studies in the U.S.
She happily accepted on the given opportunity. “I had missed too much school, that it just made sense to stay and go to school here,” said Insha. Aside from a first-class education, Insha’s move to the U.S. also allowed her to participate in a wide range of other opportunities, which included ski racing. She picked up the sport very quickly, and her natural ability appealed to her inherently competitive nature. About her love for the sport, Insha said,
“I like skiing and competing, because I enjoy winning and being successful.”
Insha went on to attend The Hartford Ski Spectacular for the first time as part of Disabled Sports USA’s Diana Golden scholarship program in 2013. Although she had been on a ski slope prior to this, she spent the week there training with Paralympic coaches and high-level adaptive athletes to help her hone her skills further. It was her first experience skiing with other proper adaptive athletes.
The experience helped her hone her skills and better her understanding of how to three-track ski. She took that information back to her school coaches, where she then continued to train daily as a member of their non-adaptive program, and still does.
Meeting Erik and Beyond
In addition, she became a member of the National Sports Center for the Disabled (NSCD) team, located in Winterpark, CO. It was there that she met her coach, Erik Petersen (the Director of Competition at NSCD), four years ago. Insha holds her in a high regard, stating that, “Erik is the reason I have been able to do this or even know how to do it.”
Insha mainly focused on Slalom and Giant Slalom. For her, she primarily wanted to control her nerves and just finish. “It’s a mental game for me,” she used to say then. All of that work finally paid off as Insha continued to excel on the slopes. She competed in several NASTAR races, ICC races, and Nationals. Insha also competed with more than 40 athletes in US Paralympic Alpine National Championship in 2015, leading up to the 2018 Paralympics.
Then in the 2018 Winter Games in the skiing section, Insha represented Pakistan and shined brightly. An interesting fact is that before this, Pakistan had never fielded a team for the winter games, meaning that she was the only athlete to have represented the country in South Korea in history.
Her ultimate goal is to earn dual citizenship and then finally compete for Team USA at the 2022 games. “My goal is to go and get the experience at the high level competition. It is both exciting and terrifying at the same time,” she said. Next year, Insha is looking to go to Dartmouth with the hopes of skiing on their varsity team.
Her recommendation to the people who look up to her remains constant i.e. a mantra she’s proven time after time without fail. She says;
“Don’t be afraid of falling. Because you can always get back up.”
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