Polio runner Mudassar Baig poised to inspire Pakistanis at London Paralympics
Pakistani polio survivor Mudassar Baig dreams of winning a medal at the Paralympics, hoping to inspire a nation troubled by corruption, Taliban violence and lost sporting glory.
"It's a dream come true for me and I want to be a role model - not only for disabled people in my country but also for the able-bodied who lose courage," said Baig, whose right leg was left shorter than his left by polio in childhood.
The 33-year-old post office clerk, who thought life was over when he couldn't run as fast as the other boys growing up, is one of four athletes representing Pakistan at the London Paralympics starting tomorrow.
He will compete in the 200m and 400m, hoping to replicate the success of Pakistan's first paralympian, long jumper Haidar Ali, who won silver in Beijing in 2008. "I always wanted to run like the other boys, but my disability hindered that. I made a promise to myself that one day I will run and win, and that day will come during the London Paralympics," he said.
Ali heads the Pakistani contingent. Aneela Beg will compete in women's 100m and shot-put, and Mohammad Naeem in the 800m and 1,500m.
Born and bred in the industrial town of Faisalabad, Baig struggled after contracting polio.
"I used to feel dejected whenever I watched boys my age play, run and do the usual things of life without facing any problems."
He declined to be drawn on the Taliban's recent ban on polio vaccinations in Pakistan's northwestern tribal belt, jeopardising the health of 240,000 children.
But bizarrely, he says what changed his life was watching an obscure film as a teenager about a man who overcame adversity to help his nation win a war.
"It taught me a lesson that I should fight and pave a way to becoming a role model for my country's youth," said Baig.
In cricket-mad Pakistan, Baig feels put out that other sports don't get the same attention despite a series of spot-fixing scandals that have brought shame on some of Pakistan's most gifted cricketers.
"It is disappointing that cricket gets all the media attention in our country," he said. "Cricket brought a bad name for our country, so we must win in other sports to bring about a change."