Nigara Shaheen will be competing in the -63kg category this summer in Paris. This is not her first appearance at the Olympic Games. In recent years she dedicated her life to this ultimate goal and she reflects on what this means to her.

“It is like I am living my dream again. The Olympics has always been my dream, since I was a child. Thankfully I got the chance to participate again. I will utilise this opportunity to the full and perform better than my last participation, in Tokyo.

Nigara Shaheen and Vahid Sarlak

When the list of athletes was revealed, I remember that we were in Croatia for the European Championships. The night before the announcement, with my teammates, we couldn’t sleep. I was shivering but when they announced that I was part of the team, I shouted and hugged them. That moment will always stay close to my heart.

Paris 2024 represents hope for me, hope to perform better, be a better representation of millions of displaced people around the world. I want to make everyone who contributed to my success in the selection process for Paris 2024 proud, especially the IJF and our judo family.

This time I have a strong coach and better facilities for training. Tokyo 2020 came right after Covid and those were hard times, especially for me because I was not part of any training bubbles. During Covid all the national teams had their training bubbles and they trained with specific people to avoid any health risks. This time it’s totally different.

Nigara Shaheen (AFG) vs Marie Eve Gahie (FRA)

So far the preparation is going very well. I train three times daily at the IPE Dojo in Canada, where I live.

I was born in Afghanistan and was raised in Pakistan as a refugee. Because of the war in my country, my family had to leave everything behind and we found refuge in the neighboring country. We only had one plastic bag with some snacks when we fled; we started from scratch. That’s why I’m always thankful for how far I have come.

I began training in judo when I was 11 years old in Pakistan. I rapidly understood that judo could teach me the art of falling before rising. As a child, when my coach told me I need to learn how to fall first, that lesson gave me motivation to take every defeat as an experience and prepare for the rise.

Today I live in Canada, thanks to the IJF, IOC and UNHCR for providing me with the opportunity to start a new life in here. Hopefully one day I will find a way to give back to my family and my sports family but, for the moment, my days are simple. It’s just training, training and training.

The challenges are still numerous but for me personally, I miss my family a lot. I always crave the warmth of family when I get back to my apartment after a hard training day.

My dream as a person is to wake up one day without the news of war. I have this habit of reading the news in the morning the minute I wake up and everyday I wake up with the news of war and destruction. As a judoka I want to have my own dojo where I can teach judo not only as a sport but also as a school of thought and mental support.

I trully believe that the philosophy behind judo is so beautiful. Everything we learn in the sport prepares us to be a fighter not only on the tatami but also outside of it. I always say, once a judoka always a judoka.

In Paris, I will participate in both events, individual and mixed teams. I am looking forward to competing in the team event, because till now I didn’t have that chance. Team events are more exciting since I always look at my teammates and feel like I can’t let them down so I fight for all of them.

My message to the world would be to find what makes you happy and keep holding onto it. It can be difficult sometimes but it’s never the end. That’s the reason why I see myself teaching the values of judo all over the world. I don’t know how I am going to do it but I am sure I will do it.”

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