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Mahoor Shahzad: The National Badminton Champion with International Potential

Badminton star Mahoor Shahzad has not only revived interest in badminton with her success but also serves as a role model for little girls who wish to play sports.

Often the conventional view is that sons are athletic, and are able to carry forward the legacies of their fathers and forefathers. Most sports in Pakistan are neglected to the exception of cricket.

However, Mahoor Shahzad has not only revived interest in badminton with her success but also serves as a role model for little girls who wish to play sports. At the young age of 23, Shahzad has been the National Badminton Champion of Pakistan for the last four years and currently ranks 133rd in the world.

Though badminton has been played in Pakistan since 1953, it came into full swing as a popular sport in the mid-1970s, with internationally acclaimed players. But its popularity declined in the 1980s. Shahzad’s love for sports was inspired by her father, who was once a badminton player himself. He later turned his attention to rowing, for which he won several medals, including four Bronze Medals for Pakistan in the Pan Pacific Master Games 2019, held in Australia in October 2019.

Both Shahzad and her father train rigorously, even on weekends. Since Pakistan lacks professional and standardized training facilities and coaches, Shahzad has had to design her training plans herself, which is no easy feat. Badminton is the fastest racket sport, which requires technical expertise and analysis just as much as it does physical fitness. Shahzad trains for approximately 6 to 7 hours a day split between a morning and an evening session.

She explained that the three “S” is very important in badminton: Style, Stamina and Speed. For style, one has to train in court, for stamina, one has to run long distances, row or do other cardio exercises. Finally, to increase speed, one has to do short sprints and shadow drills.

Shahzad recalls that she held her first badminton racket at the age of 11 years and that her athletic beginnings were the streets outside her house. After some time, her father became a member of Sunset Club, Karachi, and insisted that Shahzad and her sister take classes there in the evenings, while he could train them himself in the mornings.

Two years later, Shahzad participated in the National Junior Badminton Championship, in the categories of Under 16 and Under 19. She outperformed everyone’s expectations, winning the finals of the Under 19, and earned the National Junior Championship at the young age of 13.

The accolades have accumulated since. At 16, Shahzad was amongst the top 2 female badminton players of Pakistan and represented her country in Asian Games 2014. At the age of 18, she won her first senior women’s ranking tournament in 2015, by beating the top player of Pakistan at that time, Palwasha Bashir, with a score of 21-13 and 21-14.

Shahzad’s career only went up from here and in 2016, the 19-year-old player became number 1 in Pakistan. In 2017, she was awarded the National Champion of Pakistan in Women’s Singles for the first time, a title she has managed to keep for four consecutive years.

For Shahzad, her most important achievement was the Pakistan International Series 2019. Around a week and a half before the tournament, her ankle twisted while training at the Center of Excellence Academy (COE) in Denmark, and the physiotherapist firmly advised her not to play for a week.

However, Shahzad pushed herself and made a comeback in the court within the week, though the injury worsened. Shahzad recalls taping, applying the cream, wearing ankle support bands before every match and then icing after the game. Yet, she beat the player from Iran, of a much higher ranking than hers, and won the Final.

The Annapurna Corporate International Badminton Tournament was held in Nepal in July 2018 was also an important milestone for Shahzad, as she was the only Pakistani to participate in the tournament and did not have anyone cheering her or guiding her. Once again, she powered through and won first place.

Shahzad has been lucky to not face many challenges as a female athlete in Pakistan, especially because of her supportive family. Apart from this, the Secretary of Pakistan Badminton Federation, Wajid Ali, has supported and encouraged Shahzad in her journey.

In 2017, owing to Shahzad’s potential, he selected her out of all the badminton players in the country for the Asian Olympic Project (AOP) training camp 2020, held in Malaysia. The AOP is a badminton development program, in which 20 players from across the developing countries of Asia are selected and are provided with training opportunities and competitive scholarships. Shahzad continues to be a part of it to date, making her the first and the only Pakistani badminton player to get selected thrice for the Asian Olympic Project 2020.

Every sport requires focus, commitment and discipline, qualities that Shahzad does not lack. In order to remain dedicated to her game, she has had to compromise on social gatherings, screen time, and other activities which girls her age enjoy doing. Even when sick, she would not skip her practice, opting for a bad day training instead of no training. Determination and willpower continue to be the driving force behind her ambition to be internationally recognized as a serious athlete.

The future looks bright for the young athlete if provided with the right facilities and professional training. Pakistan’s lack of internationally standardized coaching and lack of funding are the two main hurdles why more Pakistani badminton players cannot compete with athletes from other countries.

Shazad has the potential for further international success, given the opportunity to train with the top coaches of the game, and in this, the Badminton Sports Federation can play a critical role in making or breaking Pakistan’s future in badminton.

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