March Issue 2010

By | People | Profile | Sports | Published 10 years ago

Today, getting in touch with Naseem Hameed is an impossible task. By day she is training, and by evening she is giving interviews and collecting prizes that she well deserves. Life has changed in a big way for Hameed since the Golden Girl won the gold medal in the 100-metre race at the SAF Games recently. She is a darling of the media and is sought after for interviews 24/7. But what is surprising, and probably a contributing factor to her success, is Hameed’s composure and polite way of talking — she remains unruffled and confident. She doesn’t appear giddy with her phenomenal success; her level-headedness is very becoming.

But life was not always this way for this hardworking young girl who, when she left for Dhaka, was an unknown athlete from the lower income strata of society, and when she returned was the darling of a nation. Hameed is the daughter of an uneducated handyman. Hameed’s mother, a housewife, has been her driving force, as she believed in her daughter’s talent and supported her decision to go into sports. As a female athlete, Hameed says, people used to come and interrogate her mother as to her whereabouts when she was mostly out of the house for training and even had to travel. At times, people were also sceptical and cautious. In her words, “They would say, ‘larkee zaat hai, koi haadsa ho gaya tou?’” As if reassuring herself yet again, she goes on to say, “But everybody has problems which can be overcome by hard work and persistence.”

A resident of one of the shanty towns in Karachi, living with her family in a 40-yard single-room house located in the slums of the Korangi Industrial Area, her story is indeed one of slums to stardom. Her talent began surfacing in school and then her college days, when she started competing in athletic events at the inter-college level. The sprint queen, born in 1986, was chosen in the routine talent hunts of Pakistan Army coaches, which led her to being allowed to train on army grounds in the Korangi area, near her home. Perseverance won her a chance to represent Pakistan in this international sporting event and today Hameed is the first Pakistani athlete to win a gold medal at the eight-nation SAF Games that were recently held in Dhaka. She not only became the fastest woman in South Asia when she won the gold medal in the 100-metre event but also equalled the national record held by Sadaf Siddiqui. On that historic day, February 9, 2010, when Hameed went on the track at the Bangabandhu National Stadium, Dhaka, onlookers hoped she would simply finish gracefully. Instead, Hameed outran everyone else and did her country proud by winning the coveted 100-metre gold medal, clocking in at 11.81 seconds and gaining the title of the fastest woman in South Asia.

On her return home, Hameed got a stupendous welcome at the Quaid-e-Azam International Airport, as well as in her home district of Korangi. Jubilant faces showered petals and waved at her from wherever she passed. Hameed understands that with honour comes responsibility, and vows to do better in the future. “I had forgotten the world for nearly six months and trained very, very hard under my coach Maqsood Ahmed to achieve my dreams,” she told reporters after her historic triumph. “It is a golden moment of my life that I have brought glory to my country,” she said. “I hope my performance will inspire young athletes to join sports.”

On February 12, President Asif Ali Zardari appointed Hameed as ambassador of sports in recognition of her success at the SAF Games. Hameed thanked the masses for their support but also said, “I hope they will continue to encourage me even when I am not doing so well. That is when one needs support the most.” An obvious believer in the power of prayer, she says, “I would like to request the people to remember me in their prayers.” When asked what her future plans are, she says, “I am looking forward to other upcoming events. And when the time comes that I can no longer run like I do, I plan to step aside gracefully and coach younger athletes.” Hameed’s message for upcoming young athletes of the nation is to “work very hard, respect your coaches and hold on to your family as your biggest support. Success will then be yours.”