Flame Bearers: Keeping the Fire Burning

Flame Bearers: Keeping the Fire Burning spotlights women Olympians and Paralympians who sought to compete in the Tokyo Summer or Beijing Winter Olympi…
Dec 30th, 2020 | 17:57

Zahra Nemati (Iran): Archery & Hope

Zahra Nemati is arguably Iran's most popular female athlete. While she grew up competing in taekwondo, after a car accident left her legs paralyzed, she decided to pick up a bow and arrow at the age of 21. Zahra’s physical disability allows her to qualify for the Paralympics, but she also was also the first to beat out many able-bodied athletes to additionally qualify for the Iranian Olympic team. In this episode, Zahra shares what it’s like to compete in both the Olympics and Paralympics, and discusses what gives her hope. Experts interviewed include Mr. Behzad Pakzad, Zahra’s coach, Ms. Maryam Shokouhil, Director International Affairs, Iranian Paralympic Committee, Nahid Siamdoust, Assistant Professor in Women's studies and Anthropology of Religion at the Harvard Divinity School, and Mark Gearan, Director, Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics.
In this episode, we hear from an Iranian athlete who has qualified in archery in both the Paralym-ic and Olympic Games—Zahra Nemati. Learn about the tragedy that almost took her life and the special message she offers the world—an image of hope to those without hope. She was the first female Iranian to win a gold medal and carried their flag at the Rio Olympics. Don’t miss out on this dream-fulfilled from her childhood, the honor surrounding her story, and what gives her hope. In hearing from Zahra’s coach, we gain insight on what is was like for him to watch her win a medal. Coach Pakzad, says it was ultimate happiness that gave him a sense of peace and higher self-confidence. Learn what it meant for Zahra to carry her country’s flag in the Opening Ceremonies. Zahra is a sign of hope, courage, and diligence for girls in Iran. She is seen as continually breaking barriers and has already left behind a legacy of inspiration for others to follow. Sports truly present the ability to surpass barriers and political differences. Astoundingly, Zahra did not start archery until after her 21st birthday. After a severe accident at 18yrs old, the direction of her life completely changed. Zahra shares how she was always thinking about the impact of this incident on her athletic life with taekwondo (in which she competed prior to her accident). Spinal cord injury and paralysis in both legs, led her to an “accidental” discover of archery. Her mother shares that Zahra’s response was always one of smiling and never complaining, but archery was the last step needed to provide the hope for her athletic dreams to still be fulfilled. Growing up in Kerman, Iran, Zahra was surrounded by a culture of hard-working people. Nahid Siamdoust, Assistant Professor in Women's studies and Anthropology of Religion at the Harvard Divinity School, sheds light on the strong sense of belonging that Iranians have to both their country, and the specific region Zahra is from. Learn about the unique importance Iran has in support-ing those with disabilities, derived from the pride for those who fought for their county. Zahra speaks into the specific challenges that disabilities present with competing in archery. She shares that the inability to use her back, legs, and waist muscles proves to be most difficult for balance and strength. Zahra has always maintained hope, she said sports gave her hope and confidence for life in general. The Olympics do the same for everyone—bringing people together, from around the world, in-spite of their differences. Mark Gearan, director of the Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics and former Peace Corps director, shares about what gives him hope and how sports play into that. His life is dedicated to forming bridges and unity. He discusses the fierce competition of sports, with the underlying commonality and sportsmanship that bring people together globally. Post-pandemic, Mark is optimistic that these next games will be an opportunity to rejoice in our common humanity and accomplishments. The absence of the 2020 Olympics impacted humans globally. While there is still a long road ahead, before “normal” returns, Zahra asserts it is time for us to be most hopeful! How you handle the challenge presented is the most important aspect. Make the best of your situation and seize the moment. Don’t forget, it is a test and challenge for all to remain hopeful. Join Zahra in breaking the barriers infant of us and striving forward. Links: Learn more about Zahra Nemati. Follow Zahra on Instagram. Learn more about Coach Behzad Pakzad. Find out more about Nahid Siamdoust. Learn more about Mark Gearan. Check out more on the Flame Bearers website. Connect with Flame Bearers on Instagram and Facebook.