Athlete Profile: Insha Afsar
Spend a few hours with Insha Afsar, and you could easily mistake her for another typical American teenager. During the week, she attends a highly-regarded preparatory school in New England and works towards her goal of attending an Ivy League school, hangs out with friends, and works to improve her standing as an elite racer on the school’s ski team. But evidence of Insha’s atypical past is never too far from view.
Insha was six years old in 2005 when a 7.6 magnitude earthquake struck the northern region of her home country of Pakistan. The earthquake took the lives of 75,000 people and uprooted three million others. The events of that day would start Insha’s life off on a trajectory towards the other side of the world and a skiing career she never could have imagined.
Insha was at school when the earthquake struck. The building collapsed and she was trapped under rubble, causing her to lose her right leg. A year later, TIME magazine sent a photographer to Pakistan to cover the devastation. Surrounded by the grey desolation of a refugee camp, the little girl in a red coat standing on crutches caught the attention of thousands of readers, including a member of the Shriners.
Several weeks later, thanks to the generosity of the Shriners and TIME magazine, Insha and her father were on their first of several trips to the United States to help her get fitted for a new prosthesis. It was on this trip in 2007 where they would first meet Rebecca Lambert and Todd Bent.
The Bent’s would sponsor Insha and her father several more times before offering a more permanent home for Insha during the school year if she wanted to continue her studies in the United States. She happily accepted.
“I had missed too much school, that it just made sense to stay and go to school here,” said Insha.
In addition to a fist-class education, Insha’s move to the U.S. also allowed her to take advantage of a wide range of other opportunities, including ski racing. She picked up the sport quickly, and her natural ability appealed to her competitive nature.
“I like skiing and competing, because I enjoy winning and being successful,” said Insha.
In 2013, Insha attended The Hartford Ski Spectacular for the first time as part of Disabled Sports USA’s Diana Golden scholarship program. She spent the week training with Paralympic coaches and high-level adaptive athletes to help her hone her skills. It was her first experience skiing with other adaptive athletes.
“It was a lot of fun, and I made some great friends,” said Insha.
The experience helped her hone her skills and better understand how to three-track ski. She took that information back to her school coaches, where she trains daily as a member of their non-adaptive program.
“If I’m not skiing I’m normally doing core workouts, and before the season starts there are three weeks of dry land training,” she said. “I ski seven days a week and race three days a week.”
All of that work has paid off. Insha has excelled on the slopes. Last year, she competed in several NASTAR races and even participated as a forerunner in the U.S. Paralympic Alpine National Championships.
Insha’s success on the slopes helps to keep her calm amidst the grueling college application process. She’s eyeing Dartmouth, with the hopes of skiing on their varsity team.
“Skiing makes me feel stronger and helps relieve the stress of school,” she said.
She’s also got her eyes on a bigger goal: a medal in 2018. Insha hopes to one day compete, and win, as a Paralympic athlete, perhaps as Pakistan’s first ski racer. Currently the country does not field a team for the winter games. She’s also applying for dual-citizenship in the United States, which would allow her to race for Team USA.
For now, she’s taking the sport one race at a time. She hopes to return to mentor other athletes who have the same big dreams.
“Don’t be afraid of falling,” she says. “Because you can always get back up.” A mantra she’s proven out time and again.