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Photo Credit: Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post

11,946 kmfrom home
He trained girls to box in Afghanistan. Then he ran for his life from the Taliban.
Boxing coach
Current Country: 
United States
Country of Origin: 

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Mohammed was born a fighter, so he’s not used to sitting still. For now, he has no choice. He came to the United States nine months ago with some clothes and a pile of yellowed newspaper clippings, photos and mementos collected from four decades in boxing.

He left behind a wife and four children, a career as a boxing coach and a dream of helping women in Afghanistan aspire to something more than life as second-class citizens. After the fall of the Taliban, Sharif helped introduce dozens of Afghan women to boxing, eventually becoming the country’s national boxing coach and leading one fighter to the brink of the Olympics.

“It’s a society where 50 percent of the population plays no part except sitting at home. It was considered kind of crazy for a woman to fight,” he said with a chuckle.

Mohammed made international headlines for the audacious undertaking, lacing up mitts to challenge the traditional Afghan notions of femininity and womanhood. Mohammed’s fighters didn’t have proper equipment, didn’t have extensive training and didn’t have much support. They had a coach, though, and at the time, a bit of hope.

Nearly a decade after Mohammed started coaching young Afghan women, the successes are unclear, and the dangers feel as present as ever.

Mohammed, 57, sleeps in the living room of a Leesburg apartment. He fled Kabul in January and has applied for asylum in the United States. He was once celebrated for his work with young Afghan women, but as the country unraveled and power shifted, Mohammed became scared for his life.

“Because of these monsters who I do not even consider human, I had to leave,” he said.

If he stayed, he was certain of his fate: “Death was waiting for me 100 percent,” he said.

This story originally appeared on the Washington Post, read the full story here

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