Sky’s the limit, hitting the slopes, faster and faster
Insha shows her skills on the slopes in Winter Park, Colorado.
Photo Carol MacKay
At 17, Insha Afsar is like any other teenager: she is enjoying her senior year at the Berkshire School, weighing college choices, and ready for her next adventure on the ski slope. It is hard to imagine this is the girl who, at the age of five, suffered the loss of a leg during the 2005 earthquake in her homeland Pakistan.
Thanks to a Time cover photograph the Shriners in Los Angeles offered to help Insha. She was flown to the United States with her father and the organization arranged for free medical care. Heal the Children Foundation found a family in Connecticut who offered to put up Insha and her father. Thus began the magical journey that took her from a war-torn village to idyllic northwest Connecticut and a new life with Ted and Rebecca Bent.
Ted had been involved with the Healing the Children Agency in New Milford and decided to volunteer to sponsor a child who needed medical care. “To our surprise a representative showed up with Insha and her father, who spoke no English,” Bent explains. “Insha had lost her leg up to her knee and lay for four or five days without medical treatment. Gangrene had set in through her hip and so that had to be removed as well. The Shriners had arranged for her treatment at a hospital in Springfield, Massachusetts and our house became the place where she lived while she went back and forth.”
On the first two visits, her father accompanied her; on the third she traveled by herself, highly unusual since Muslim girls are not allowed to travel alone. At that point the Bents enrolled her at Washington Montessori School. “I did it as a lark, thinking it would be good for her to learn more English and to interact with children her own age,” says Bent. “She was there for three and a half years, but going back to Pakistan every summer.”
Since both Bents were working, they needed someone to care for Insha when she returned from school. That is how they met Jay and Krystyna Jankowski, who have played a major role in Insha’s success on the slopes. “The school recommended me to Ted,” says Krystyna. “I’d pick up Insha at school; she’d do her homework at our house and she began to feel at home.”
One day, seated at the kitchen table, Insha started crying because she wanted to play tennis, a sport that was totally out of her reach. To appease her Jay came up with an alternative. “She was about ten years old by then,” he recalls. “I told her I would teach her how to ski. We have a home in Vermont, so I took her there and put her on the slopes. I got her little outriggers and she took to the sport immediately.” “I loved the feeling of going fast,” Insha says. “Eventually I wanted to ski more and more.”
“She persevered and won a silver medal and a gold as part of the National Standard Race (NASTAR), the largest public grassroots ski-racing program in the world,” says Jay. “She has no fear and is totally unaware that she has a handicap.” Insha explains; “I try not to focus on the fact that I am nervous. I concentrate on remembering the combinations and trying to keep my heartbeat steady. At Berkshire I practice four days a week and race the other three.”
Her next dream is to qualify for the 2018 Winter Paralympics. Pakistan does not compete in the games. If she obtains dual citizenship, she will be able to qualify and train with Paralympic Team USA and both countries can take pride in her performance.
“I’ve done so much and I know I can do more,” says Insha. “I have to keep working and believe that I can do anything at all.”