Coffee with Y meets an exceptional young athlete at the top of her game on the Sultanate’s taekwondo scene, whose training and practice in Oman have earned her a spot on the Indian national team.
The path to success is never straight; instead, it zig-zags, curves, and doubles back on itself before our goal is ever sighted. But reaching that goal can be attributed to perseverance, determination, and a self-confidence that’s etched in stone. And yet, an individual’s quest to find success can depend on how quickly they take the first step towards achieving it.
Perhaps this is what has helped Maheen Nawaz Khan – a 12-year-old student from the Indian School Maabela – strike gold… literally!
A taekwondo artist who has quickly stolen the limelight from competitors in this age group, Maheen’s attempt to break records in Oman has been an awe-inspiring one – and nothing short of successful.
But, what was the motivation behind the making of one of the sport’s youngest stars?
It’s a question that Maheen – who sits across us with her father, Afzal Khan, during our interview – has no trouble answering.
She laughs as she proclaims: “It was my father’s idea. He thought I was becoming lazy as I was growing up. So, he enrolled me in taekwondo classes.”
Her father responds with a grin on his face.
But his decision cannot be faulted with; since her introduction to the sport, she’s taken home more than 10 medals, including a gold while representing Oman at the prestigious Gulf Championship for Taekwondo – an achievement that’s pegged to adults with over a decade of experience.
A natural in the martial arts, a humble Maheen quickly tells us that her success can be put down to her training and her coaches – those who have helped her extensively from when she began her practice at the age of seven.
Today, she trains and performs the art of ‘Poomsae’ – a well-defined pattern of defense and attack motions performed in a designated space.
Since beginning her training, she’s taken part – and won medals – in the 3rd Asian Cadet Taekwondo Championship, IIT Kanpur Championship, National Championship in Pune and Chennai, Barka Taekwondo Championship, and the 6th Greater Hyderabad Championship, among several others.
Talking about her early days in the sport, she tells us: “When I first began training, I wasn’t serious. I thought that it was a way to pass time.
“But, things changed after I won the silver medal in my first competition at Barka in 2015. That’s when I realised my true potential and that I could achieve so much more if I put my mind and heart into it.”
Even her coach, the renowned Musafir al Sinani, told her that she could draw greater awards if she trained harder… and that’s exactly what she did.
Today, Maheen trains anywhere between five and six hours, daily.
“I don’t see this as a waste of time at all. I feel this has already become my career, passion, and hobby – and I love it.”
If that wasn’t all, the eighth-grader is also a horse-rider, swimmer, and the topper in the section of her school.
Explaining to us the reason why Maheen is pushed into physical activities, is her father, Afzal. He explains, “Going to taekwondo is a big challenge – possibly one of her greatest ones to date.
“The reason I thought she needed that time away from all the books is because the world has quickly moved into one where children rely on smartphones, PlayStations, and books for their source of entertainment and knowledge.
“This restricts your movement in a day. It can end up harming you more than you think. That’s why we made the decision to take up this sport.
“Ever since we started, we have been able to see the best in her. And what began as training soon became something more competitive.”
However, it wasn’t all fun and games for Maheen during her early days. As she confesses: “Every medal I earn is a matter of pride for me and my parents. But I will never forget how nervous I was when I started. I didn’t know if I could perform the things that I had practiced the night before.
“I even practice until the time for my performance. These are all things that I have worked around, though. I have dealt with it and all that’s left is excitement before the start of a championship.”
The confident Maheen may be performing at her peak, but her next challenge sees her up against no shortage of talented contestants – the World Taekwondo Championship 2020.
She remains confident, however, as she aims to take home a gold medal representing her home country – India – for the first time.
“I’m a player of Oman,” asserts Maheen. “But this time, I will be playing for India – it’s the dream of my parents to see me wear a gold for our country, and that’s what I’m striving for.
“We can’t simply push Oman to the side. The support we’ve received – from the school to the coaches – have been amazing.
Maheen now trains with the coach of the national team – Kamal al Busaidi.
She dreams big. Aside from her perseverance and determination to bring home gold, Maheen also aims to become an Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer someday – one of India’s most prestigious titles.
But she says that she probably won’t put her taekwondo aside.
“I’ll give studies preference as I grow older, but I will be in touch with taekwondo for life.
“It’s one of those sports that gets a grip on your life and refuses to let go. And, if you pursue the sport with your heart and mind, then you’ll also achieve great heights.”