Former Pakistani Olympian recalls persecution while training
SASKATOON – Forty-year-old Shazia Hidayat didn’t always have shoes to run in or a safe place to go. She grew up in a village in Pakistan, where women weren’t allowed to run openly outside.
“A woman isn’t allow to run openly. They don’t have an opportunity to compete and can’t go anywhere without parents,” Hidayat explained.
But her Christian father and brother always supported her, biking beside her as she trained at three in the morning.
“I ran in the road at night time. My father and some times my brother bicycle rode with me. I ran early in the morning,” Hidayat said.
As Shazia ran at district and national competitions she faced persecution. During qualifying competitions spectators would throw rocks and other objects at her.
“It is very difficult for women, I know what kind of problems face my family because I am a woman competing to run,” Hidayat said.
She didn’t let the threats stop her and qualified to compete in the 1,500 meter run at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. She was the only woman on Pakistan’s team and the second woman ever to represent the country.
But the fame she gained from competing came at a price.
“Islamic organizations attack my family. My home is burning. They are still not safe over there,” said Hidayat.
Fearing for her safety Shazia moved to Canada and settled in Saskatoon.
“My family still faces hard conditions, they are not safe over there. I decided to move, then they moved to another country, and then to Canada,” Hidayat explained.
Shazia refuses to be silenced and is now working to build connections between young women in Pakistan and Saskatoon by creating virtual pen pals using Skype.
She hopes to share her story with young women so they know anything is possible if you put your mind to it.
“Work hard and be strong. Never quit to be a successful person,” said Hidayat.
© 2016 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.