Besides lifting barbells with her biceps, Maryam Nasim bears the weight of many other things on her mind. For her, weightlifting is more than a sport.
A professional female weightlifter who is based in Melbourne but hails from Peshawar, Maryam is breaking stereotypes about the women of her native province and country and believes she is representing her people's positive side.
As a teenager, Maryam left her family and moved to Melbourne a decade ago to complete her studies in accounting. While living there, she discovered her love for weightlifting. The story of how she did so is not quite what you expect.
Maryam initially got into weightlifting as part of a weight loss regimen. As a young student at the University of Canberra, she realised that starving herself was not healthy and luckily found friends who inspired her to exercise. During her time at the gym, she found that she particularly enjoyed weightlifting and began pursuing it professionally.
Before she knew it, she won a silver medal in a weightlifting competition in 57-kg category in Melbourne and to her it’s a tremendous achievement for someone who's been weightlifting for just two years.
Maryam has also been the Australian Football League’s Multicultural Ambassador. Through her achievements, she hopes to send a message that Pakistani women, if given freedom of choice and support, can do extraordinary things.
She cites her parents' support and good wishes from her fans on social media as the reasons for her success.
“My family's moral support and positive, encouraging comments from Pakistan on social media are like an energizer for me," says Maryam. "In return, I try to keep their expectations alive.”
She recalls the nervousness on the eve of her first weightlifting competition. When she shared her concern on social media, she got lots of support and good wishes not just from friends, but followers whom she didn't know personally.
But not everyone sees her weightlifting as a good thing.
Once when her grandfather watched a video of her weightlifting, he called her mother and said, “If she is doing this because she needs money, then we should help her out.”
Maryam admits that it was possibile that she may have never found her passion in Pakistan.
“If I were in Pakistan, I don’t know if I would have been introduced to this game. It's not common for women to pursue athletics and there aren't many platforms for females.”
However, she says, despite difficulties, there are some Pakistani women who have pursued athletics as a career and are making a name for themselves.
The biggest hurdle, she says, for anyone out there in Pakistan is “log kya kahain gay". Once you overcome this mental block, you can move forward in your life.
However, Maryam believes that every big decision of life should be taken after bringing one’s parents/ guardians into confidence to get their support and prayers.
“Along with weightlifting, I’ve also worked in modelling, but my family didn't approve. So I decided not to continue because I didn’t want to hurt their feelings. I knew I wouldn’t be able to have success in that industry as my parents’ blessings won’t be with me, ” Maryam tells us.
Regarding her future goal, Maryam says, “I hope to represent Pakistan on the international level one day and weightlifting competitions could be held in Pakistan.”