Sara Abdolmaleki is a strong and determined young woman whose life story will empower anyone who is weighed down by life’s trials and tribulations.
Abdolmaleki is a strong and determined young woman whose life story
will empower anyone who is weighed down by life’s trials and
The twenty-three year old resident of Karaj has
proven that one can persevere and overcome even the most earth
shattering obstacles in life only to emerge with resilience.
unconventionally beautiful and cheerful Abdolmaleki has always been an
anomaly. Unlike most young adults her age, her recreational activities
did not include frequently restaurants and shopping malls with friends,
but a focus on athletics and sports activities.
played a central role in her life. Her father, who had aspired to
become a professional athlete, never had the opportunity to realize his
dream, but passed on his passion for sports to his daughter.
energetic with a hint of hyperactivity, Abdolmaleki began taking karate
and Kung Fu lessons at the age of five and continued on until she
Not academically inclined, the only course she ever
looked forward to in school was physical education. “The only class I
would always get a perfect grade in was my gym classes,” she says.
her tenth birthday, the family relocated and she took a short break
from sports but got back on track with classes in kickboxing and
cross-country running later. Then, when she turned 15, Abdolmaleki
decided to drop out of school and follow her dreams of becoming a
However, her mother urged her to get her
high school diploma in physical education while she competed in sports.
In order to do so, she had to commute from Karaj to Tehran where they
offered the courses.
During her second year in high school,
Abdolmaleki was introduced to handball which she pursued and eventually
excelled. Soon after, she began playing rugby which became her favorite
sport of all.
“No sport could zap my energy like rugby,” she giggled during a recent interview.
took her a year to pass entry into the national team and from there she
made it to the Asian competitions when she was 17 years old, the
youngest member of the team.
Eventually, she earned a high school diploma and was accepted at Azad University in Tehran, majoring in physical education.
one to rest on her laurels, she aimed for international coaching and
sports arbitration and qualified in both. Before long, Abdolmaleki was
coaching two groups, teens under the age 17 as well as adults in rugby.
of my adult students showed up to the class the first day when they had
found out their coach was younger than they were,” she says.
Eventually, the student body showed up for the class.
athlete continued her studies in college, worked as a coach in various
centers and partook in competitions. By the time she turned 21, she was
at the top of her game earning a nice income. Additionally, Abdolmaleki
gained fame in her field and was allowed the privilege of travelling
around the world for work.
“I felt I had achieved all I ever desired.
My dreams had all come true. I practically had no more dreams left. I
became bored, and I pleaded with God to open up a new route in my life,
making it exciting and challenging once again.”
And her prayer was indeed answered.
die-hard rugby enthusiast, the athlete decided to travel to the western
province of Kermanshah to watch a rugby competition up close and learn
more about her favorite sport. She had a relative in Kermanshah with
whom she could stay while there.
Despite her mother’s objections,
she drove from Karaj to Kermanshah in her Peugeot only to find out the
competition was cancelled.
She spent the night in Kermanshah and
the next day as evening fell, despite numerous warnings, she headed back
to Karaj, insisting that she had an important final exam the following
day. And practically with two more exams she would graduate from college
with an associate’s degree.
And this is when tragedy struck.
last thing she remembers that night was driving on Buein Zahra Road in
Qazvin province. It was pitch-dark. There were no traffic lights, no
guard rails, and no traffic signs to warn drivers of sharp twists and
turns on the road. At one bend, her car got off track and took a seven
meters nose dive down an embankment.
The driver of the car riding
behind her saw the accident and went to her rescue. The only way to get
her out of the car was to drag her through a window, but this was a
HUGE MISTAKE at that moment. Moving her suddenly made a spinal cord
injury much worse and Abdolmaleki was rendered paralyzed, the worst
possible outcome from an accident any athlete could face.
taken to a nearby hospital where she was diagnosed with a ruptured
lung, mild brain injury, three broken ribs, a broken wrist, and a spinal
She even met with death on the first night in the hospital. But not quite.
told me they lost me, but on the way to the morgue my vital signs
returned and I was transferred back to the hospital ward.”
month prior to the accident, the young athlete had had a dream, in which
she was sitting on a green wheelchair, similar to the one she uses now.
recalls waking up from the nightmare in hysterics and quickly feeling
her legs to find them intact and functioning. The nightmare reoccurred a
few days prior to the accident.
Eventually, the rugby coach was
transferred to a hospital in Tehran where she received physical therapy
and special care. Her athletic body assisted her treatment.
her month-long hospitalization many Iranian officials including Hassan
Qazizadeh Hashemi, Iran’s Health Minister, as well as sports icons like
Ali Daei, once Iran’s top soccer player, visited Abdolmaleki at her
Abdolmaleki’s hospital bills were staggering and
her family could no longer afford them, especially when they found out
that their daughter had not been insured by her employer, despite
earlier claims to the contrary.
Then, Mehrab Qasemkhani, an
Iranian scriptwriter, posted an Instagram message pleading for donation,
and donations, indeed, poured in and Abdolmaleki’s entire medical
expenses and her extensive operations were paid in-full.
following her release from the hospital, she was admitted to a
rehabilitation center where she underwent a month of physical therapy
and learned to cope with her difficult condition.
checked-out of the hospital and was transferred home, the devoted
athlete had to start from ground zero. She needed assistance in all
rudimentary tasks such as getting dressed and bathing. It was the
endless love and encouragement from her parents that gave her the
strength to persevere and move forward.
“My mom acted as if nothing had happened. She not even once got depressed over my condition and that was empowering to me.”
Abdolmaleki gradually accepted her disability, although at first she assumed it was temporary.
a year of physical therapy she woke up to the reality that she wanted
to return to a more normal life. That was when she decided to attempt a
new round of sports activities.
She began with track and field
where she would throw discus, but a few months in, she realized that
discus was not her calling. “The sport was just not dynamic enough for
She then tried her hand at kayaking where no Iranian woman has ever won a medal in Paralympic Games.
She feels being in a kayak is what she wants because she feels more like a “normal athlete” and not a disabled one.
began her training at the Azadi Sports Complex on the Azadi Lake in
Tehran where for the past four months she has been attending training
sessions directed by her coach. Thanks to her father’s efforts she has
not missed a day of training so far.
Today, Abdolmaleki is
aiming for a medal in kayaking, first in 2018 ICF Canoe Sprint World
Championships in August in Portugal, and later in the Paralympic Games
in 2020 in Tokyo, Japan.
During her time with the reporter,
Abdolmaleki got dressed and with the aid of her coach and father, she
got into a kayak and put on a demonstration for the camera.
held the paddles firmly in hand and paddled away from the Azadi Lake
pier and onto the sparkling lake water where she met with flocks of
birds that flew off when paddling close to them.
Abdolmaleki’s story is truly an inspiration to thousands of people whose
lives are suddenly upended by tragic accidents. Like the birds she
encounters on the lake, this adamant young woman has shown that even
after tragic injuries one can indeed “fly” again, but in a different
way, with her arms propelling a kayak forward.