Twelve-year-old Iraqi Nejla Imad has had a tragic past. Yet, she holds a table tennis ball against her bat with her thumb, throws it into the air and sends it bouncing over the net.
She does this with her left hand while sitting in a wheelchair. Imad, like several thousands of Iraqis, is a victim of the bombs that have terrorised the country for more than decade.
Nejla was only three years old, when a bomb ripped through her family’s car in Baquba, a city northeast of Baghdad. The explosion took most of her right leg, part of her left and her right forearm.
Despite these injuries, she took up table tennis when she was four and is now a rising Paralympic star. Table tennis has begun to change my life for the better. My self confidence is increasing day after day,’ said Imad, who wore a green jersey with her country’s flag on the front and ‘Iraq’ on the backside. She’s distracted enough that tennis is now helping her deal with the pain of her injuries.
She further added, ‘the people around me show sympathy to me, and their readiness to help me, especially when I am outside the house, and this is something important that greatly eased the physical and psychological pain after I became handicapped.’ She trains thrice a week in Baquba and goes to Baghdad twice a week to practice with the national under-16 Paralympic team.
In Baquba, she practices with four other girls, one of whom is paralysed by a mortar round and three others who were disabled from birth.
Imad’s coach from Baquba, Hossam Hussein said that Imad won medals in several local competitions, drawing the attention of the National Paralympic Committee, which invited her to join the Iraqi under-16 team.’Nejla is one of the most skilled players on the table tennis team. She has great skills and great confidence in herself,” said Hussein, predicting that Imad has a bright future ahead of her.
In 2015, Imad came second in the Iraqi championships for disabled players under age 16, and also won silver at the Arab championships in the same year.
Imad wishes to be with the Iraqi teams in future Olympic competitions. She’s continuing her studies alongside table tennis.
Imad’s mother says the on and off trips to Baghdad, which is about 60 kilometres away with numerous check points and traffic jams is tiring and expensive. The 100,000 Iraqi dinars she receives per month for transport do not fully cover the expense. She said, ‘But I feel her happiness and I see her practicing the sport, and this reduces all my troubles.’
Futher, Samir-al-Kurdi, head of Iraqi table tennis federation for the disabled, added, ‘We are proud of Nejla and her teammates.’