Nadia Nadim grew up in Afghanistan until her father, an Afghan National Army general, was executed by the Taliban in 2000. Months later, when she was 11, her family fled country in the middle of the night.
They were smuggled out of Afghanistan in the back of a truck on a road that took them to Pakistan, where they spent two months before flying to Italy.
From there they were put in a van and “somehow ended up in a refugee camp in Denmark,” Nadim, 34, said in a recent interview.
During his nine months in the refugee camp, Nadim watched a group of Danish girls play football from behind a fence.
“It’s the first time I’ve discovered football,” she said. “It was love at first sight.”
It was also one of the first times she saw women and girls playing sports. Under the Taliban regime, such activity can be interpreted as an act of defiance.
“I knew I had to be on this pitch and play football,” Nadim said.
Playing in the Danish club system, she moved up to the national team in 2009 and has played for some of the best teams in the world including Manchester City WFC, Paris Saint-Germain Women, Portland Thorns and now Racing Louisville FC.
Nadim scored over 200 goals during his football career and helped bring club championships to Thorns in 2017 and PSG in 2021.
Although she had scored goals all her life, there was one she had yet to achieve: getting her medical degree.
She has finally completed a journey that began 10 years ago when she obtained her medical degree from Aarhus University in Denmark last month, focusing on reconstructive surgery.
“I feel like I’m playing football or soccer for myself,” she said. “It’s my hobby. I appreciate. But I wanted to do something more than that. I wanted to have an impact.
Over the past decade, the process of balancing his career as a professional athlete for club and country with medical school has been grueling.
“I asked myself the question: Why am I doing this? What’s the point?” she said.
Yet she never backed down.
“You have to remember why you started this journey,” she said. “And you have to imagine the goals you set for yourself, the light at the end of the tunnel. And that’s what motivates me. »
At the end of her football career, Nadim said she would like to join Doctors Without Borders. But whatever she does next, she will never sever her relationship with the sport that changed her life.
“I always want to be connected to football in some way because I think it’s a powerful game,” she said. “I want to be in a position where you’re going to actually impact other people’s lives and help people because I know what it’s like to get help.”
“And I know how much it means when you’re in need and someone does something for you,” she said.
She said she hopes to one day “bring this beautiful game to every corner of the world where people don’t yet have access to it.”
“Particularly the girls, unfortunately, who are not allowed to play,” she said.
Nadim, who is fluent in nine languages, was named UNESCO Champion for Girls’ and Women’s Education in 2019.
Since Afghanistan once again fell under Taliban rule in August, there has been a documented effort to evacuate women playing sports from the country.
Nadim was one of 3,525 Afghan refugees who sought asylum in Denmark in 2000, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. A total of 86,201 Afghan refugees have sought asylum there between 2000 and 2021.