By Almas Akhtar, TMO
Maria Toorpakay is a Pakistani professional squash player and is ranked #1 in the countryâ€™s female Squash ranking. Her story began in the small town of Waziristan which is in the northern part of Pakistan near the Afghan border.
This area is a Taliban stronghold where car bombs and street firing is very common. Women usually remain within four walls of the house. Girls do not attend school after 5th grade. Maria Toorpakay was different as she was very competitive from the very young age. She played with her brothers and their friends. Her father loved and respected women in the family, he cut her hair short and sent her with her four brothers to the football field by telling everyone that she is his fifth son. When Maria was about 11 years old she discovered the sport of Squash, Pakistan has produced many world champions in this sport. Mariaâ€™s idol was Squash Champion Jahangir Khan. She started playing by herself without any formal coaching. She used to hit the ball every day from 8 to 10 hours inside a squash court. Maria and her family had to move to Peshawar when she and her father started receiving death threats from local leaders. Her parents and family left Waziristan for a bright future for Maria. She won many national championships.
Despite lack of a sponsor she went professional becoming the #91 seeded players in the world. She later reached #71 ranking in the world and now her world rank is #37. She received the nomination as WISPA Young Player of the Year in 2007. Maria wanted to go abroad for further training and to become the World Champion; she started sending emails to every Squash training school in the world. It was the former Canadian Champion Jonathan Power who saw a video of her powerful game and decided to coach her in Toronto, Canada so one day she can become the World Squash Champion. Now Maria has moved to Toronto, Canada where she undergoes 10 to 14 hours of rigorous daily training. Her living and training expenses are paid by the Jonathan Powerâ€™s National Squash Academy. She qualified for and won the WSA Liberty Bell Tournament in Philadelphia in January 2012 defeating World #6 female Squash player.
Maria Toorpakay believes that her achievements can open doors for girls in the region and her success can encourage other female sports players in the world that everything is possible.