"Basketball Helped Me Recover"
Meet Ishrat Akhtar, the first wheelchair basketball player from Kashmir
Over the past few decades, Kashmir has produced a large number of international athletes excelling in a range of sports, including football, cricket, martial arts, snow skiing, adventure sports, and water sports. It is time to also recognise athletes who have overcome disabilities, and proven their mettle in numerous national and international sports competitions.
One such young sports star is wheelchair basketball player Ishrat Akhtar. Twenty four year old Akhtar hails from the Bangdara neighbourhood of the Baramulla region in north Kashmir. She claims to be the first Indian woman to play wheelchair basketball to have competed at the top level.
The young woman recalls the agony she went through after an accident left her wheelchair-bound for the rest of her life. In 2016, she suffered spinal cord injuries after falling from a building's second storey. She was taken to a hospital in Baramulla, then to one in Srinagar, and had surgery there.
When she left the hospital, she was perplexed since she couldn't even remember what had happened to her. "My physical condition showed no signs of recovery after six months, and I was confined to bed. I had to be fed by my parents," she recalled.
Then one day Akhtar receives a call about a camp being held in her neighbourhood where persons with disabilities were given wheelchairs. "My sister insisted and sent me to a camp where the doctor examined me, and asked me to come to the hospital for training in using a wheelchair," she recalled.
Once she was mobile Akhtar changed upon a group of wheelchair basketball players and joined them. "I was informed that a national wheelchair basketball squad would be chosen, and the Wheelchair Basketball Federation of India was holding trials in Srinagar," she said adding, "I went to Voluntary Medicare Society Srinagar, played there with others like me, and eventually was picked at the National level". According to Akhtar it was basketball that helped her truly recover.
In 2018, she took part in her first national competition, and in 2019, she competed again while representing Kashmir in Mohali. In the same year, she was selected to represent India at the Asia-Oceania Wheelchair Basketball Championship in Thailand. "Our team faced off in Thailand against Iran, China, Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia, and Afghanistan," she said. Akhtar was recently selected to play for India in the international wheelchair basketball tournament, which was held at the Jaypee Sports Complex Noida.
The Wheelchair Basketball Federation of India (WBFI) will also hold the first-ever wheelchair basketball international invitational event in association with the International Committee of Red Cross. "It Is a proud moment for me that I was chosen to represent India at the international arena for a second time," she said, "I have been working hard for this event."