Nadia Nadim is a famous soccer player both in the U.S. — she plays for the Portland Thorns — and abroad (she got her start in Denmark). But she’s never really felt the pressure on the field, it’s always been a joy just to kick the ball around.
While many professional soccer players might feel the same way, it’s because of her upbringing that she can keep her calm in the face of such high stakes like international competitions. Because Nadia’s love for the sport started in secret.
Born in Afghanistan, she was introduced to soccer by her father. At the time, he was a general in the Afghan Army. When she was 10, though, her father was called to a meeting with the occupying force, the Taliban.
He never returned. Nadia, her four sisters, and mother were all alone. She couldn’t attend classes or even play soccer in public. She kept her passion confined to her family’s tiny, walled-in garden.
Naturally, this was no life for children, so Nadia’s mom saved everything they had and planned an escape. Smugglers were to take the family to London, where they had relatives, but when their bus stopped suddenly, they were left in what was clearly not the bustling, British capital.
They were in rural Denmark.
The women were put in a refugee camp, and while the conditions were not ideal, Nadia finally got to do what she loved in public.
She played soccer with other girls and boys, and what’s more, she flourished!
Things started looking up for the family as Nadia began to train with a club and the women were allowed to move out of the camp and into an apartment.
When Nadia’s mother, Hadim, struggled to make ends meet and pay for her daughter’s travel to the club, the organization bought her bus passes. They already knew she was destined for big things.
It wasn’t long before Nadia graduated to senior soccer. She gained Danish citizenship and was given a coveted spot on the national team.
The Afghan-native was the first naturalized person to join the team.
Just recently, she helped the Danes, the presumed underdogs, beat the projected champions, Germany, in the Euro 2017 quarter-finals. Her teammates made it all the way to the finals, where they, unfortunately, lost to the Netherlands.
But Nadia knows it’s all about perspective. She’s passionate about soccer but above all, she wants to give back to those who took her in.
Soon, she’ll finish a medical degree in reconstructive surgery so that she can help the people of Denmark recover from debilitating and deforming injuries.
For someone who came from nothing and built herself up, Nadia is a true testament to all the things you can accomplish if you put your mind to it.
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