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What's with the name?

Allow us to explain.


A Girl Named Genghis Khan: Squash Player Masqueraded as a Boy to Learn the Game

When Maria Toorpakai Wazir was four, she cut her hair, dressed in her brother’s clothes, and took her own clothes into the backyard to burn them. “My father started laughing,” she says, “and said, ‘Here we go, we have a Genghis Khan in the family.’” The rest of her childhood in the Waziristan region of Pakistan was marked by fist fights, which she says is how she made friends. “I am a warrior, I was born a warrior, I will die like a warrior.”

Sounds about right for a girl who dressed as a boy in order to play the sport of squash, becoming the best female player in Pakistan, until Taliban threats forced her to leave the country in order to continue to train.

Squash is a very popular pasttime in Pakistan, and it’s fielded several of the most revered players in history, including Jahangir Khan, “considered by many to be the greatest player in the history of the game.” Both Pakistani men and women enjoy the sport, but Waziristan specifically is a “conservative” part of the country, to say the least. In Toorpakai’s home, women are not allowed to leave the house without going veiled and accompanied by a male relative, and they’re certainly not allowed to appear in public in shorts, like Toorpakai does when she plays and practices.

Nevertheless, when Toorpakai was twelve, her father decided that the best way to burn off the energy she was expending getting in fights was to enroll her in a sport, starting with weightlifting. He told her gym that she was his son, Genghis Khan. Later, when her interests turned to squash, he enrolled in a squash academy in Peshwar. It took a few months before anyone realized she was a girl, at which point the “extreme bullying” she received only pushed her to train harder. She wound up winning several championships, received an award from Pakistan’s president, and went pro.

Unfortunately, with notoriety came attention from the Taliban. Toorpakai was provided security by her country’s squash federation, but elected to quit practicing in public gyms so as not to endanger the others around her. For three and a half years, she practiced in her room, and in her spare time sent thousands of letters to squash clubs, squash academies, and colleges in Europe and America, trying to find one that would allow her to train there. Eventually, she reached Jonathan Power, a Canadian squash player who was the first North American to ranked #1 worldwide, and who had spent a lot of time playing in Pakistan with Pakistani players. He accepted Toorpakai as a student and she now lives and trains in Toronto.

Listen, I tried to summarize this story pretty well, but virtually every part of it is badass. She’s even getting TEDxTeen talk. You can read more at the BBC.


  • Jericho McCune

    Can’t wait for the TED talk!

  • ShifterCat

    I think it’s sweet that her dad enrolled her as Genghis Khan.

  • Anonymous

    Reading that BBC story left me teary eyed. This young woman is fantastic and her family and Mr. Powers truly good and wonderful human beings.

  • James Fletcher

    That’s a pretty intense story. I’ll admit that I know nothing about squash, but this makes me want to learn about it.

  • Eli Keel

    Thanks Mary Sue, I needed something uplifting.

  • Louis Gonzales

    Total badass! :D

  • BruceKent

    Would someone explain to me why the hell the Taliban cares about a woman who wants to play squash? Aren’t they busy trying to blow themselves up or something. I bet Ms. Wazir could whip one of their guy’s ass. Kudos to her and what she has done and I hope she goes all Lucy Van Pelt on anyone who gets in her way.

  • Travis Fischer

    This girl is awesome. Total BAMF.

  • Xeo Ann

    What a super-badass father she has!

  • Anonymous

    Thats just it when it come to extremist groups. It’s ALL about controlling every single aspect of everyone’s lives. Of course, it’s fucking crazy, but they can’t seem to get that. Anyway, I’m always happy to hear stories about parents who defy these “laws” for the sake of the betterment of their daughters lives in this world. I wonder how many fathers in that region also long to do something like this for their daughters but don’t out of fear. It’s probably more than we could ever guess. Toorpakai herself will be inspirational to many young women to be sure, but hopefully she will be one to some parents as well.

  • Urban Sidhe

    What an awesome and supportive dad!

  • Vian Lawson

    Well, imagine how terribly scary it’d be for them if women started doing what they wanted, instead of what they were told. You know, going out, getting educated, having hobbies, generally improving their lives. How long do you think it would be before even the men started thinking about what they wanted, rather than what they were told? And what would happen to the power of the Taliban then?

  • Anonymous

  • Amanda M. Ramsey

    She sounds AWESOME!

  • Aundrea Singer

    Go, Canada. :D I’m so glad this awesome girl is in Toronto!