In a country like Pakistan where civil unrest is commonplace, society was looking for someone to look up to (whether it was conscious or not) and could inspire them to find their own inner strength, and that person was Sarmad Tariq.
Sarmad is a C5 quadriplegic, an athlete, a motivational speaker, a husband and a man beloved by many. He was paralyzed in 1991 when he was just 15 years old in a diving accident.
A self-admitted cocky young kid at the time, he had visions of becoming the world’s first Pakistan heavyweight boxing champion, which was dashed after his injury.
His family didn’t want to accept his injury as permanent right away, but he knew how serious it was, which he eloquently describes in his blog Who is SHUTAROO?
Even though Sarmad had to permanently retire his boxing dreams, he moved onto dreams he could still achieve, such as graduating from university and going on to get his MBA, which he did. Along the past 23 years he has also been able to reconnect with his athleticism. He may not have gone into boxing, but he ended up becoming a hand-cyclist.
In 2005, he made history in Pakistan by becoming the first wheelchair cycling participant in the Lahore Marathon. This inspired his country so much that they sent him to NYC to participate in the ING Marathon. Sarmad had a gift to move human beings to think beyond themselves.
The one thing about Sarmad as well, so his admirers say, is that he never complained about his situation. Not once. He was a silent sufferer, and if his injury story was ever brought up he always made fun of himself (now that’s my kind of guy). Sarmad lived in Islamabad with his wife, where he spent many years as a motivational speaker.
This is why I was so sad to discover that he recently passed away. On Tuesday this week, after suffering from increasingly worse automatic dysreflexia caused by multiple issues, he had a cardiac arrest at home and passed away shortly afterward. He may have not quite made it to 40, but the impact he had on so many could take lifetimes to equal.
Sarmad was determined to live a full life despite a difficult injury, yet he was only 38 when he passed away. While he wasn’t sure he could recover from such a blow to his life in the beginning of his injury, which he frequently talks about in his speeches, he says he made it through by being selfless and finding humor whenever possible.
I wish I could’ve met Sarmad. He gave an epic speech for TEDxKarachi focusing on finding the possibility in impossibility too. This notion may be something that sounds a bit cliché to American ears, but it’s still fresh to ears in Pakistan, and quite powerful.
As a quadriplegic myself, hearing of Sarmad’s death is also a bit disconcerting. We can be healthy one day, but everything can change so quickly (as Sarmad talks about in his blog). That is the big danger of living with a spinal cord injury. If too many things happen at once – automatic dysreflexia, a fever combined with the UTI, etc, etc – this can wear the body down like a penny on train tracks.
What is great however about Sarmad’s story is that he still made his life worth something, and even though he lived in one of the toughest places in the world to have his condition, he made it work. Oh boy did he make it work.
Rest in peace Sarmad Tariq. See you hopefully on the flip side, and hopefully when we meet, we’ll both be on our feet.
How have you been inspired by Sarmad?