Huge congratulations to Sajjad Hussaini and Sayyed Alishah Farhang for qualifying to participate in the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics as the first Afghans to participate in an Olympic skiing event. Through this historic parcipation, not only are they bringing the world’s attention to a positive image of Afghanistan unknown to the world, a story other than the dominating voice of conflict, they are also pioneering the establishment of skiing in Afghanistan, paving the way for many more generations of skiers to come from Afghanistan. Yes! Yes! Yes!
In celebrating this important milestone in Afghanistan’s young journey as a ski nation, we must honor and recognize the hard work by Sajjad and Alishah in materializing this dream despite the insurmountable amount of challenges as latecomers to the sport, living in Afghanistan, and training without proper equipment. They are the faces of the new generation in Afghanistan. Born in war, and living through it, this generation is about turning the tables, changing the existing narratives, and establishing new and exciting chapters. This generation recognizes that the story of war was written and imposed on us by outsiders, people who didn’t roam these mountains with us. This generation writes a different story, of putting up the good 'fight', of conquering vast mountains on skis, and in doing so, reclaiming beautiful landscapes lost to warheads.
Alishah and Sajjad stepped into the world of skiing after a Swiss journalist by the name of Christoph Zuercher ended up in their valley of Bamiyan, located in Central Afghanistan. While on a vacation in one of the only few places in Afghanistan safe enough for foreigners to visit, Christoph noticed the snowy hills and mountains in the valley, perfectly conditioned for skiing. The next year, he returned with some ski equipment and tried to convince the locals to try it out. Few people showed interest, and those who did faced opposition from their families who had a hard time understanding what the sport was about or the value one could get from sliding on the snow as opposed to spending that time studying or helping the family with herding the livestock.
To devise a better way to establish interest among the locals, Christoph organized a ski race, and named it the “Afghan Ski Challenge”, where contestants have to hike up a steep mountain (there are no lifts), and then go down for a quick descend. Seeing the racers stumble and fall on their way down gave the locals and the skiers something to laugh about. Everyone was having a great time, and that’s how the Afghan Ski Challenge became an annual thing. And that’s how the raw talent of Alishah and Sajjad was discovered. After winning a few of the challenges in the beginning years, they were crowned the ‘best skiers’ in Afghanistan.
Video: Afghan Ski Challenge
Now the Afghan Ski Challenge is in its 8th year, drawing racers from all corners of the world in a battle unique to the cultures, geography, and conditions of Afghanistan. Since its adoption, the challenge has resulted in the formation of several local ski clubs, the main one being Bamyan Ski Club, of which Sajjad and Alishah are a member of. The duo have also trained in St. Moritz for the past three winters. They are back there again this year to prepare for the 2018 Winter Olympics. If you want your two cents to go to a worthy cause, consider a donation to support their journey to PyeongChang. From humble beginnings to sweat, victories, and challenging moments, this is a 'Dream Come True' story most deserving your support.
The Olympics is in 90 days, and I am already counting days to watch Sajjad and Alishah’s historic participation, waving the Black, Red, and Green flag among other nations, and with it, a message of peace.
To learn more about skiing and its development in Afghanistan, check out Afghan Ski Challenge.