In 2012, Zahra Nemati became the first Iranian woman to win gold at either an Olympic or Paralympic Games. The following year, she also won the Spirit of Sport Individual award. Yet, eight years before any of these fortunes, Zahra had an unfortunate spinal cord injury, which led to her paralysis. However, she did not let this life-changing injury limit her abilities, showing the world that people with impairments are not broken.
Zahra’s story starts in Iran, where she was born in April of 1985. At a young age she showed an aptitude for sports, and had a black belt in Taekwondo. Then, in 2004, disaster struck; due to an earthquake, Zahra suffered a serious spinal cord injury, leading to her paralysis at the age of 19. Zahra, however, did not this fact define her, and went on to demonstrate that she was still as driven and athletic as ever. Only two years after her injury, she took up archery. A mere six months after that, she competed at the National Championships against perfectly able-bodied archers, and came in third place. Her outstanding performance at the Championships landed Zahra a spot in the National Archery team, with which she won a medal in every championship game she competed in, while also breaking several world records. All of this led up to the London 2012 Paralympic Games, where she won an individual gold medal, as well as a team bronze.
Zahra’s achievements, determination, and strength not only won her the Spirit of Sport Individual Award in 2013, but it also made her into a role model, especially in Iranian society. She is an inspiration to Paralympic athletes, women, and everyone in between. It is even said that since Zahra’s achievements, the number of para-archers has increased in Iran, as well as the number of women partaking in sport. Zahra’s story challenges the previous stereotypes of people with impairments, and it communicates what it truly means to be an athlete.