Introduction

Maria Toorpakay Wazir hails from South Waziristan, (FATA) a tribal region in northwest Pakistan, bordering Afghanistan. She was born into a Pashtun family on November 22, 1990. Her parents are teachers who are committed to

Maria Toorpakay Wazir


Professional Achievements


Maria Toorpakay Wazir hails from South Waziristan, (FATA) a tribal region in northwest Pakistan, bordering Afghanistan. She was born into a Pashtun family on November 22, 1990. Her parents are teachers who are committed to women's rights despite the presence of the Taliban in the region. Maria credits her father Shamsul Qayyum Wazir's time spent with and learning from German and Icelandic hippies visiting the area in his youth for his self-taught education and supportive attitude toward women's education, which included education of her mother. Her sister is Aisha Gulalai, a Pakistani politician working to empower women in tribal areas.

As a child, Toorpakay loved to play outside, even though girls are not allowed to go outside the house in the highly conservative tribal area. At age 4, her parents allowed her to dress in boys' clothes and by age 7 she lived as a boy. Before fifth grade she burnt all her dresses. Her father saw parallels to his tomboy sister, who just collapsed one day and he thought she died basically of a broken heart, because she wasn't allowed to live the life that she wanted to live.

In 2002, Toorpakay's father put her into weightlifting in Peshawar to channel her negative energies and introduced her with the name Genghis Khan. She trained and competed as a boy with the explicit support of her father. At age 12 she won a junior championship in Lahore, and managed to keep her clothes on for the mandatory weighing, because her brother refused to take off his clothes and created a protective precedent. She became captivated by squash after observing it, where she was weightlifting, and saw it as her next challenge. Her father took her to a squash academy and after needing to produce a birth certificate, gave up pretending that she was a boy. The truth about her gender leaked out, and she had neither training partners nor coach and trained by herself for hours. She was harassed and bullied by other players, boys and men.

In 2006, Toorpakay turned professional. As a female athlete who played without a veil and in shorts, her actions were perceived as un-Islamic. It was in 2007, two years before Malala Yousafzai was shot, that the Taliban threatened to kill her and her family. The Pakistan national squash federation provided security by snipers around her house, all the way to the squash court and on the squash court. There was a bomb blast every day and terrible things were happening all around her.

Toorpakay decided it was safer for everyone if she found an opportunity to train internationally. She wrote to clubs, players, and schools and received no response, for three and a half years she locked herself in a room in her house. She kept playing squash, hitting balls against her wall, until her neighbors complained one day. She had to switch the wall. But she kept going. Eventually former professional squash player Jonathon Power replied to her letter and in 2011, she arrived to train in his academy in Toronto, Canada.

In late August 2007, at almost 17, she lost a five-game semi-final in the POF Women's International Squash Players Association Wah Cantt Open at the Jahangir Khan Squash Complex in Wah Cantt, missing out on a maiden appearance in a WISPA World Tour final. She was nominated as 'Young Player of the Year 2007'. In 2009, she won third place in the World Junior Women's Squash Championship. In October 2012 she won the first annual Voice of Hope Award from Canadian First Lady Laureen Harper.

Since 2011 Toorpakai has resided in Toronto, Canada, and has a home in Pakistan. She lives alone but don’t go out to party or drink, because she wants to set a standard for the girls back home.

As of 2012 Toorpakay was ranked as Pakistan's top female squash player. In 2013 she was one of three Pakistani women in the top 200 and as of May 2016, she ranked 56th of female squash player in the world. In 2013, she gave a speech for Tedxteen called 'Squashing Extremism'.

In May 2016, she published her memoir, for which she was interviewed by Terry Gross on National Public Radio's Fresh Air.

Toorpakai is an advocate for women's rights in Pakistan to overcome discrimination and cultural obstacles. She has set up a foundation encouraging families to educate girls and allow them to play sports.

In August 2007 the President of Pakistan gave her the Salaam Pakistan Award, alongside tennis player Aisam Ul Haq Qureshi and footballer Muhammad Essa.

She wanted to get academic training in music.