A famous celebrity touring devastating scenes of people who have lost their homes in floods – this sounds like a scene that could have unfolded recently in the New York, New Jersey area in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. However, it was a setting that took place two years ago in Pakistan, when Aisam Ul-Haq Qureshi, fresh of reaching the doubles and mixed doubles finals at the 2010 US Open, toured flood-ravaged areas of his native country.
Qureshi discusses this moving experience in his new ebook “Stop War, Start Tennis! Lessons of Life and Understanding From a Pakistani Tennis Player” in his chapter called “Count Your Blessings.” The chapter is exclusively excerpted below. STOP WAR, START TENNIS: LESSONS OF LIFE AND UNDERSTANDING FROM A PAKISTANI TENNIS PLAYER, (available for $4.99 in the United States here: http://m1e.net/c?83116886-4HPysGd.OPk1s%408047560-e1PaGSwUou3Y2details inspiring stories of the life and tennis career of Qureshi, Pakistan’s most celebrated tennis player, with the hopes of inspiring people to learn from both defeats and triumphs in sports or other endeavors.
Count Your Blessings
For the past 16 years, I have travelled around the world and met many wonderful people. At times I have got caught up in my own little world, but in reality my problems pale in comparison to others. I have learned to count my blessings and never forget the privileged position I am in.
When I stepped off the tennis court and into northern Pakistan’s flood ravaged Hunza Valley in September 2010, on my first mission as a United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Goodwill Ambassador, I flew by helicopter to oversee reconstruction projects where homes made of wood, stone, brick, and indoor plumbing have been built. The 2010 floods affected nearly 20 million people and about a quarter of the country’s area.
I remember thinking afterwards, how overwhelming it had been. You see the pictures on the television, you read about the thousands and thousands that are affected, but until you actually go there and see the suffering and in such harsh weather, it is very tough to fully comprehend it.
You know we often get numbed by the millions of dollars needed after catastrophes like Haiti or Pakistan, but I was able to witness that day just how valuable one hundred, five hundred and a thousand dollars can be. One thousand US dollars is what it costs to build a house here that is 400-square feet with a living room, kitchen, washroom all insulated to keep out the severe cold weather. And each house can shelter up to 10 people. I flew by helicopter from Islamabad first to Hunza Nagar.
After a meeting with villagers, I travelled to the Ghizer valley where I saw the reconstruction projects. In these regions alone over 87,000 people were displaced by floods and subsequent landslides. It was definitely an eye-opener. Being among the people who went through the trauma of the floods and seeing the sadness in their eyes, and the weakness. The only reason that they continue to live there is because of hope. Hope that comes from projects like this. Had this happened to me, I seriously doubt that I could have survived a year in these type of conditions. The first priority is to give them shelter against the winter cold, as the temperature drops well below zero at night. And then we have to help them get back to their livelihood of planting and harvesting. It is not just their homes that were lost to the floods, but their fields and crops too.
My coach, Robert Davis, happened to be in Pakistan when I made that trip for the UNDP. Robert went to northern Pakistan, Skardu, for a different reason, but when we met at a hotel in Islamabad right after I had returned from Hunza, I could see that Robert was visibly shaken and immediately, he noticed a difference in me.
“It was as if he had become older, or should I say more mature? As if it finally hit him that he, Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi, was now someone who could make a real difference in other people’s lives who were less fortunate,” said Davis. We both talked about the experience for a while over a late lunch and when I recounted the story of the lady who was crying and begging me for help, tears began to form in my eyes.
At that moment, I realized I had become a very public figure and my life would never be the same. “Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi is a role model for the youth of Pakistan, given his excellent performance in tennis at the international level,” said Toshihiro Tanaka, Country Director UNDP. “He has become an icon in terms of promoting peace, friendship and harmonious society beyond borders to the common Pakistanis, particularly the youth, and thus became a natural choice to serve as UNDP’s National Goodwill Ambassador. Aisam possesses a rare ability to reach the hearts and minds of people throughout the world.”
About six weeks later, Robert and I were in Melbourne for the Australian Open when another event happened that deeply affected me. It was in the player’s lounge at Melbourne Park that I could not believe the report I had just read. Esther Vergeer, a wheelchair tennis champion, had won an amazing 401 tennis matches without a loss. A record that dates all the way back to 2003, including the fact that Vergeer has never lost a singles match in Grand Slam competition. I was shocked. What an amazing achievement in our sport. She is an inspiration. I wanted to meet her and find out how she has managed to achieve so much. It was arranged for the two of us to meet and after a 30-minute hit together, Vergeer suggested that I try out wheelchair tennis.
“Of course if you are in the chair and you get the ball right at you or in a good place then it’s good to hit,” said Vergeer. “And he’s an awesome tennis player so he’s able to hit the ball well, but then if he needed to push or go from left to right he had some problems; but it took me 20 years to get at this level, so it was good.
“The fact that Aisam wants to be involved and do good things for wheelchair tennis,” stressed Vergeer. “I think that is amazing.
“In my rehab centre I got introduced to sports when I was eight years old and after a surgery accident had become paralyzed. I thought there’s a lot of things that I cannot do anymore, but in tennis, the main thing for me was that people didn’t stare at me. I wasn’t weird in tennis or in disabled sports and that just made me feel so good and made me realize that there was still so much out there. I will never be as good as the able body guys and that’s okay. I try to do it at my best and I like it.”
This experience gave me a greater awareness as to what others feel who are less fortunate than I am. It is easy to get caught up in my own little world and think that my problems are big, but in reality compared to so many others, I am truly blessed. And I do not want to ever forget that.