Morteza Mehrzadselakjani distinctly remembers the moment sitting volleyball came into his life. And it is not because it brought him worldwide success or even fame. It is for reasons far more important.
“Before joining the sport, I was an isolated person,” Mehrzadselakjani said just a few weeks before the start of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games. “In the past, I could never imagine such a future for myself.”
“But sitting volleyball changed my life. For this reason, I call sitting volleyball a miracle in my life.”
Sitting volleyball feels much the same about the 2.46m tall man. Mehrzadselakjani, who was talent spotted after a coach saw him on TV in 2011, has added dynamism to a sport already famous for its fast play. And he has also become something of a poster figure.
Iran captain and libero, Ramezan Salehihajikolaei is in no doubt about the big man’s contribution to his team. After the disappointment of losing out on the gold medal at the London 2012 Paralympic Games, Salehihajikolaei is certain as to what made the difference at the Rio 2016 Games.
“The Games were different for different reasons because first of all Morteza joined the team, that was a strength point,” he said. “The main feature of Morteza is his unique physical condition and his unachievable height of spike (2.30m at its highest).”
Not only did the team avenge their loss at London 2012 but they did so by beating archrivals Bosnia and Herzegovina 3-1 in the final. In a statement that sums up everything about the team, the modest Mehrzadselakjani insists that the result was not about his headline-attracting input, but instead it was down to his inspirational captain.
“Ramezan is absolutely the strength of our team, he is a fighter, an unrelenting and experienced player,” Mehrzadselakjani said of the man who also took the team to the 2018 World Championship title, triumphing once again against Bosnia and Herzegovina in the final.
“We cannot imagine the team without Ramezan.”
This feeling of warmth, respect and true team spirit is clearly vital to Iran’s mesmerising run of success in men’s sitting volleyball. The team will arrive in Tokyo having claimed a remarkable six out of the past eight Paralympic titles.
It is no wonder both men adore playing, with Mehrzadselakjani calling it the “most exciting sport” in the world, while his captain simply cannot imagine existing without it.
“Sitting volleyball has had an immense impact on my life,” Salehihajikolaei said. “All my life revolves around sitting volleyball. Who I am roots in sitting volleyball and I am grateful for sitting volleyball.”