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Afghan amputee dreams of Paralympics success

By Mohammed Jamjoom and Mitra Mobasherat, CNN
updated 11:34 PM EDT, Thu April 26, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Landmine amputee in training to fulfill Olympic dream
  • Afghan Malek Mohammad hopes to be in London to swim in Paralympics
  • He trains in Kabul with no coach but plenty of support
  • Afghanistan's only Olympic medalist Rohullah Nikpai hopeful Malek will reach London

Kabul, Afghanistan (CNN) -- Inside a sparkling new pool house off a dusty, bustling street in Afghanistan's capital, sits a young man with a dream.

Malek Mohammad, an 18-year-old double amputee, has already overcome so many challenges in his young life, some might be tempted to think he requires no assistance whatsoever.

But adversity has made him wise beyond his years, and Malek knows better. His struggle has been a lonely one.

"I need support, I need help because I'm representing Afghanistan -- especially disabled people," says Malek, who more than anything, wants to swim for his country at the 2012 Paralympic Games in London.

Landmines took his legs at age 11 as he was walking through a field near Kabul's airport.

It was while he was in the hospital that an American visitor noticed Malek and paid for him to go the United States and get prosthetic limbs made.

18-year-old Malik Mohammad dreams of swimming for his country Afghanistan at the 2012 Paralympic Games in London.
18-year-old Malik Mohammad dreams of swimming for his country Afghanistan at the 2012 Paralympic Games in London.
Paralympian's dream
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Women's boxing in Afghanistan

During his two years recovering there, Malek was encouraged to participate in sports and he learned English. Then he returned to his family in Afghanistan.

Malek's younger brother, Samandar, beams with pride as he watches his sibling swim the length of the pool.

"He didn't lose his courage and power. He is very strong, and I am sure that he can take part in any competition. I am sure he will be successful and then the whole world can be proud of him."

At the pool, Malek shows us how athletics turned his life around, using his arms to lift his body off the tiles and then dive into the pool.

"I don't have any coach or any trainer to teach me how to swim, how to prepare for the games, so I'm doing by myself, because I love swimming," says Malek.

In a country torn apart by far too many years of war, Malek is far from the only athlete facing these types of challenges.

Female boxer trains in stadium where Taliban executed women

"I think the government of Afghanistan has given the Olympic Committee too little assistance and enough attention hasn't been paid to it either," says Olympic Committee member Sami Darayi.

I am so happy to see someone like him, who has no legs, still swimming.
Raza Javed, friend

"The budget that the government has allocated to the Olympic Committee is almost nothing while we have got more sport federations than a lot of other countries."

To date, Afghanistan has won a medal at the Olympics only once -- at 2008's Beijing games when Rohullah Nikpai won a bronze medal in taekwondo.

Nikpai, who was swimming in the same pool as Malek when we visited, is keenly aware how difficult it is to excel in athletics in Afghanistan.

"I know that we don't have enough resources for sportsman in Afghanistan," says Nikpai, "but the younger generations in this country love sports, so they are making efforts to try and go out of the country for competitions.

"They want to bring medals back home. That is why we are not hesitating and making every possible effort to compete on the worldwide scale."

Malek uses two pools in the city to practice, but neither are Olympic regulation size.

When he's not swimming, Malek spends time at the track running and working to stay in shape.

The tough regimen is rough on his prosthetic limbs and the tread on the bottom of them are wearing thin. Malik says replacements are impossible to come by in Kabul.

Nikpai is very happy to see Malek make progress. "He is super smart and full of energy. I am really hoping for him to compete in the London Paralympics," says Nikpai.

"Because at this point he has no legs but is still trying to serve his country in a way that he thinks he can and that is a very good thing."

Malek has others encouraging him to chase his Olympic dream. Friends and family also find hope in him -- something they say is missing in a country torn apart by far too many years of war.

"I am so happy to see someone like him, who has no legs, still swimming," says friend Raza Javed. "And often, even better than other people on the team."

As Malek waits to find out if he's earned a spot at the games, he remains optimistic.

He realizes the odds aren't exactly in his favor, but is sure things are bound to get better.

"I am sure someday I will have some professional trainer, good teacher, good support and [be] representing Afghanistan, and that my job will be to bring some medal for my country."

Malek knows that whatever happens, in a sense, he's already won.

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