By Fatima Mahmood
Islamabad — Ifrah Wali is a Pakistani Alpine skier from the Ghahkoch Valley in Gilgit-Baltistan’s Ghizer district. She is the first Pakistani woman Olympian skier and the first woman to represent Pakistan in the South Asian Winter Games.
Wali, 20, won the Giant Slalom event at the South Asian Winter Games 2011 in India where she beat her sister Amina, also an alpine skier, and an Indian competitor. She is also the national champion of Pakistan in skiing.
She injured her leg during ski training in Austria in 2014 and has been recuperating from the injury since then.
Wali, who is also a business administration student at NUST Business School, spoke with Pakistan Ink about her personal life, education, her struggles in sports, fitness secrets and diverse life experiences, as she recovers from the injury.
Q. You belong to a remote area of Pakistan, were there any hurdles you had to face because of that?
Not exactly! My parents and my family have always been really supportive and have helped me through each and every phase of my skiing career.
Q. How was your experience at the South Asian WInter Games and what were your feelings representing your country at the international level?
The time I spent in India during the South Asian Winter Games has been truly amazing. And of course I was really proud. Representing my country has been a huge honour and on top of that winning the gold medal, standing on the podium while the national anthem of Pakistan was being played for the first time in Auli, India – this whole experience has been just amazing.
Q. What do you think about women and sports?
In Pakistan you won’t see many women in sports, which is sad because we have so much untapped potential. There are a lot of girls who are really good in sports but they don’t get any opportunity to prove them and to bring laurels for the country.
Q. Do you think Pakistan does enough to promote sports? And why do you think so?
Not much. I mean let’s be realistic, the education budget for Pakistan is not more than 6% so Pakistan needs to set its priorities right. (The federal education budget is actually less than 3% of Gross Domestic Product.)
Q. Tell us about your educational life. How do you carry it along with your sports?
Well, I’m doing (my) Bachelor’s of Business Administration from NUST and the environment here is pretty competitive and we also have relative grading system.
For me it’s really important to manage my studies, balance skiing with it. I have a plan in order to keep my cumulative Grade Point Average (GPA) above 3.3. I aim to get at least above 3.0 GPA in the fall semesters during which I go on skiing sessions and above 3.5 in the summer semesters. For this, I have to follow a time table, study regularly, not miss any class and keep myself away from distractions.
Q. We recently heard that you got injured during the activity. What happened? What was the thing that kept you going on after that and how did you cope up with the injury?
I went to Austria last year (in November) for ski training. I fell during a training session and I broke my left leg’s shin bone, my tibia and fractured my fibula, had an operation and now I have a rod along with 5 screws in my leg.
At first it was really hard, the pain was unbearable, I was in another country all alone, the situation was really depressing. The only thing that kept me going was the love I received from my friends and my family members.
My family used to call me regularly and talk to me and give me hope. My friends would put inspirational quotes on my (Facebook) wall and they would make movies and videos for me and they kept on supporting me during all this agonizing process. They helped me through it and I’m very grateful to all of them for being with me when I needed them the most.
Having to use crutches and learning to walk all over again was a different experience for me. It made me appreciate life more and made me thankful for all the blessings Allah has provided me with.
Q. Your fitness secret?
Haha! I’m a bit underweight but I am physically fit. I don’t actually have any fitness secret. I eat everything and I eat a lot but I exercise regularly so that keeps me in shape. I give a lot of importance to stretching and I like doing yoga. Yoga requires stamina and flexibility and it makes me feel a lot healthier.
Q. What other things are coming up for you?
As I have broken my leg, I’m on a break now. I will resume my skiing activities at the end of December. I don’t want to waste this time so I have applied for a few exchange programs, waiting for the results now. Also I’m working for different societies and just enjoying this time I have to myself.
Q. Any embarrassing/funny memory that you remember from your trip abroad
A lot! But let’s just stick to the funny memories for now. Once we had a connected flight from Germany to Austria back in 2009 and it was my second trip abroad so I was excited and bumpy, and at the terminal my official told me to wait after getting my passport clearance but I was so thrilled and excited that I forgot and moved out. I was supposed to go to the baggage claim area and I didn’t, instead I went into the huge duty-free shopping malls where I spent six whole hours before actually finding my way to the team. Man, did I get a lecture from my official afterwards.