Paralympic Spotlight: Maryam Salehizadeh

Many sports are featured at the Paralympics. Goalball, however, stands out as the lone sport that was designed from the ground up for players who are blind or partially sighted. This year, Canada will be represented by the Canadian National Goalball Women’s Team, comprising of six athletes from across Canada. In this week’s blog, we will be sharing the story of one of the athletes from right here in British Columbia, Maryam Salehizadeh!

My name is Maryam Salehizadeh. I am 34 years old. I was born in Fereidoonshahr, Iran, and my Eye condition is known as Retinitis Pigmentosa. I have been playing Goalball for 20 years. My older brother played Goalball, and introduced me to the sport at the age of 14. I quickly fell in love with it and decided to pursue it professionally. During my first tournament, I injured my arm while chasing the ball, and had to miss some games due to the injury, which was very upsetting. When I was 19, I became a member of the Iranian National Team. We went to Malaysia in 2006 for the Pacific Championship and won silver. It was a great tournament.

Competing in world championships and the Paralympics has always been my biggest goal, but one I could never reach on the Iranian national team. Among other reasons, the Iranian government considers Israel to be a nation hostile toward Iran, and so does not allow Iran to compete against them. If Israel sends a team to a tournament, the government of Iran will not send the national team to the same tournament. I was no exception to this rule, and so missed the world championships and Paralympics in the ten years I was on the Iranian National Team. So, in 2016, I decided to immigrate to Canada to achieve my goal.

Moving to Canada was the biggest decision I have ever made. I had to leave my family, my friends, and my belongings behind, which was very difficult. I chose in the end to move to Vancouver because of its beautiful climate and nature. Like other immigrants, I faced challenges such as the language barrier, access to local services, housing, employment, loneliness, etc. Sports played a large role in helping me overcome many barriers. Sam, one of my acquaintances, took me to my first practice with the BC Goalball Team. After that, I began regular attending, and in 2017 won silver at the national championships playing with the BC team. Although I couldn’t communicate with my teammates due to my broken English, I was thrilled to be on the team, and it was my first step towards the 2020 Paralympics. In 2019, after obtaining my permanent resident card, I joined the Canadian National Team and was part of the team in Lima, Peru at the Parapan-American games, where we won bronze. Being able to wear the maple leaf and represent Canada is one of the greatest feelings I’ve ever experienced.

It has been a challenging year due to the pandemic. Tokyo 2020 being postponed was a blow like no other. My training routine was interrupted, but due to the possibility of a quick return to competition, I had to maintain a regular training routine. I therefore decided to make myself a home gym to practice strength and mobility.

I am very excited and honoured to be named to the team representing Canada at the Paralympics in Tokyo. It has been my dream to be part of the Paralympics, and I am glad to have gotten there with the Canadian team. My hard work has paid off. I am excited for the Paralympic experience and to feel a deeper sense of pride that comes from representing Canada!

We want to wish Maryam and the rest of the Canadian National Goalball Women’s Team the best of luck as they compete in Tokyo! We will be watching and cheering them on this week!

by Clement and John
Huge thanks to Maryam Salehizadeh