A young Pakistani girl has proved that disaster and disability can be overcome by passion, optimism and resilience.
Insha Afsar, 17, lost a leg in the 2005 Kashmir earthquake, when her school collapsed during the 7.6 magnitude quake that killed around 80,000 people and displaced three million others in the Kashmir region.
She first traveled to the United States six months after the quake to be fitted with a prosthetic leg at Shriners Hospital in Springfield, Massachussetts, after TIME magazine photographed her and she caught the attention of one of its editors.
During a subsequent medical visit, Ted and Rebecca Bent of Washington, Connecticut, offered to house her and send her to school. As she acclimated to life on the East Coast, her newfound friends invited her to go skiing.
Afsar competed in a ski racing competition in the US Paralympic Alpine National Championships. Afsar was one of the 40 athletes participating in the competition. She was seen storming down the slalom course at Loon Mountain in Lincoln, New Hampshire. She now attends Berkshire Academy in Massachusetts and is sponsored by the Loon-based New England Disabled Sports (NEDS).
She is now one of the top skiers from Pakistan and hopes to represent the country in the upcoming 2018 Paralympics in South Korea. To practice, she participates in programs hosted by the National Sports Center for the Disabled.
“For my family it’s kind of shocking because they don’t understand what [skiing] is in a way,” said Afsar. “We don’t have skiing in Pakistan so it’s hard for them to process the idea.”
She also knows that relatively few women from the region participate in such sports.
“It’s not common for women to be athletes [in Pakistan]. Now I’m doing a sport that I love. That might inspire people despite everything that’s holding them back,” said Afsar.
Afsar is currently on a student visa that extends through the end of high school. She said that the highlight of her life was
“being given this chance to come to the U.S.”
With changing immigration laws, she is among a shrinking number able to make the 8,000 mile journey from the Middle East to the Rocky Mountains.