Paralympic champion escapes Afghanistan and starts over in San Antonio

SAN ANTONIO Each of the players with the San Antonio Wheelchair Spurs is a standout in their own way, but now they have been joined by Mohammad Bilal Mirbat Zai, a national Paralympic champion in Afghanistan.

As an international basketball player, his new coach Willie Jackson said, “He has the ability to improve my defense and offense, so he will be a great addition.”

Jackson said Mirbat Zai brings “a lot of strength because of the things he has had to go through, making him a very smart and strong individual.”

The day after the suicide bombings outside Kabul Airport, Mirbat Zai and his wife Humaira Sediqui waited in fear of more explosions before being able to fly out of the country.

Each of them worked with international aid groups that helped disabled athletes, which he said made them targets of the Taliban.

His wife, who lost a leg as a child when a bomb exploded outside her home, worked with the International Committee of the Red Cross, which sponsored Afghanistan’s national wheelchair basketball team.

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He worked with Free to Run, an organization that supports female athletes in conflict areas around the world.

Mirbat Zai reinforced an already emotional turning point in their lives, saying that his wife’s mother had passed away the day she found out they were expecting their first child.

A week later, he said, they arrived in the United States.

However, Mirbat Zai, who developed polio in one leg as a boy, had to give up his customized wheelchair, which he used to compete in several international games.

“With that wheelchair, I feel very good,” said Mirbat Zai. “I can walk, and I can walk fast.”

He said the wheelchair he uses now is too big and too high, making it harder to maneuver.

“A custom wheelchair that fits Mohammad will be like a pair of new tennis shoes,” coach Jackson said. “It will be able to take his skill set to another level.”

The problem, Jackson said, is that a custom wheelchair can cost up to $ 7,000.

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“We will try to raise the money, and if we can get help in the community, we very much welcome that,” Jackson said.

Meanwhile, Mirbat Zai, who has a bachelor’s degree in finance and business administration, and his wife, who specializes in prostheses, are both looking for work as well as a place to live that is wheelchair accessible.

Mirbat Zai is also a skateboarder. click here to see him in action.

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