ISLAMABAD: Motivational speaker, story teller and Pakistan’s first ever quadriplegic athlete, Sarmad Tariq, passed away late on Tuesday.
After entering into a diving accident in his teen years, Sarmad Tariq was left with both his arms and legs sensation-less. Rather than give in to the situation, Sarmad chose a life full of challenges that even able-bodied people would think twice before undertaking.
He believed his condition was reason for his spiritual liberation.
He not only participated in the event but finished the race distance of 42km in seven and a half hours, qualifying to represent his country in ING New York City Marathon 2005 and made history for Pakistan by returning with a finisher’s medal.
He was an inspiration for a source of inspiration for many.
Known as the ‘Chairman’, Sarmad was married and settled in Islamabad.
He had been suffering from multiple ailments and his condition deteriorated during the past few months for which he was undergoing treatment that was more often painful rather than relieving.
On the morning of 30th April, while I lay asleep in my bed, my mother woke me up with the words “Sarmi is gone”…
My eyes well up remembering that moment just like they welled up in it. Sarmad Tariq was one of my dearest cousins and closest friends. He was my inspiration, like he was to so many others. In fact it was he who encouraged me to start blogging. I have been wanting to write about him, I just haven’t been able to. Sarmi Bhai was the first person I would tag in my blogs and then wait for his opinion on it.
Death is a strange phenomenon. No one has an accurate idea of what happens to those who die, where they go or what they feel. Our selfish nature makes us feel sad for their demise, we cry for our loss and worry for what we would do without those who leave us. I too, do not exactly know what death is, but thanks to Sarmad Tariq many of us who knew him, have come closer to knowing the meaning of life;
• Life is not the number of days that you spend in this world, it is instead the moments that you live and cherish. He was 38 years old when he died, but unlike many lifeless lives spent, he lived every day of his life, especially after his unfortunate accident.
• Life does have a purpose and you don’t need to ask around or spend years searching for it. All you need to do is live. It’s not important to find your purpose but only to fulfill it. Sarmi Bhai’s purpose was to inspire all those around him to live as life ought to be lived and, as a consequence, fulfill their purposes.
• Never compare your life to the life of another. You can never know another man’s life until you have lived it yourself, and that is not possible. Wheelchair bound, suffering from God knows how many medical conditions, Sarmi Bhai was often found counting his blessings. He never thought of himself as disabled, but ‘specially able’ instead and God knows he proved it too.
• Life spent waiting is life wasted. Do not wait for opportunities to come knocking at your door, or for things to get better by themselves. If you aren’t doing anything in life, you are as good as dead.
• Your life is your responsibility, own it. Don’t look for scapegoats to blame for your troubles or even to give credit for your blessings. If there is a problem in your life, it doesn’t matter where it came from, it’s your problem and you alone need to deal with it.
10 Things that I learnt from my husband, Sarmad Tariq
Sarmad Tariq, the motivational speaker, life coach and the ‘chair man’ has touched many lives through his experiences of hardship and writings. As my life partner for the last 13 years, I have also learnt a lot from him.
Here is a list of my personal favourite top 10 things that I want to share with all his admirers:
1. Do not form an opinion about people on the basis of how they look, what they wear or their general demeanour. Every human being has some positive qualities that can only be discovered if we allow ourselves to do away with the judgments and discover those qualities about them.
2. Do not waste your energy and time on getting angry and worked up about the little things in life. Save it for things that really matter. And when you let your anger out, express to show your care not disrespect.
3. Do not let your fears, complexes and anxieties keep you away from pursuing what your heart tells you to. Time will not wait and there will be no tomorrow, so just do what you have to do and the rest will follow.
4. Do not let your challenges become your excuses. Seize them as opportunities that need to be explored and given meaning to.
5. Do not follow your passion, hobbies and interests half-heartedly, without full knowledge about them. If you ride a bicycle, a jeep, dance, learn all about its history, mechanics and the works because it’s only through this learning that you will excel in the passion.
6. Do not let the child or teenager in you die as you age. Allow yourself to feel the excitement about the small, the silly and fun things in life no matter what age you are.
7. Do not find excuses for doing or not doing something that you did not want or wanted to do. While your age, gender, class, disability may make things tough for you, it’s not a good enough excuse.
8. Do not waste your time ‘flipping through the TV channels’. There needs to be a purpose behind what you do and that purpose, no matter how big or small, should make sense to you. So, even when you watch a movie, listen to music, meet your friends, you of all people should know why you are doing it.
9. Do not take your loved ones for granted so keep telling them how much you love, adore and care for them.
10. Do not try to control the thoughts, opinions and lives of your loved ones. Let them live the way they want to as they are responsible for their lives. Your concern for your loved ones should not cross the boundaries of their personal space. Emotional black mail and self-pity are tools of destruction, not construction.
Walking Tall: Sarmad Tariq and Zehra Kamal
Written by: Aiza Azam –
Posted on: May 21, 2014
Sarmad Tariq and Zehra Kamal
“He never thought he was capable of it. But when the time came he overcame all the obstacles. He never thought he was capable. But when the opportunity came he grasped it with both hands. He never thought he was capable. But when he came face to face with challenges, he was up to the task every single time. He never gave up. He never gave in. He kept moving forward. He kept falling. But he kept getting up again. And he kept moving. He never thought he was capable. But, more importantly, he never thought he was incapable either. Maybe the secret lies in not thinking what you can or cannot do. Maybe the secret lies in just doing it and finding out.”
Sarmad Tariq was an exceptional human being.
In the days since his passing, many previously unacquainted people have come to know, first, of him, through the wide outpouring of tribute by those whose lives he touched; and then about him, not just from people he knew, but directly in his own words. His writings are a legacy that are enabling more people every day to hear him, a man who allowed tragedy to dictate his life in a most unconventional way: by living it.
Sarmad’s story and his achievements – as an athlete, as a motivational speaker and as a writer – have been well documented. An aspiring boxer at 15 years of age, he fell victim to an accident that left him paralyzed from the shoulder down. Months of medical complications and treatment had to be borne by him and his family, on top of the new reality that he would never stand, never walk, never run again. Devastating knowledge of this nature, the seeming affirmation of a life of limitation and dependence, could have beaten Sarmad down; but he rejected it. What followed was a series of uphill battles, from pursuing higher education to learning to drive a specifically modified car. Alongside mastering personal challenges, Sarmad had to learn to mollify and overcome the well meant fears and unconsciously adverse advice of the people who loved him and did not want to see him hurt.
“The silent message being sent to me unwittingly by my well wishing friends and family had been to accept my state and transform myself into a ‘happy vegetable’ content with my existence, starved of all challenges and achievements. Everyone almost had me convinced that the only thing worth concentrating was on trying to walk again, and not on walking tall.”
The NYC Marathon in 2005
Sarmad, however, would not be cowed down by pessimism and refused to acknowledge the word ‘impossible’. He earned an MBA degree, landed a job and, in his early 20s, married the woman he fell in love with.
Zehra Kamal, Sarmad’s wife, is a practicing clinical psychologist; she also works in the development sector, with expertise in gender violence and youth issues. Her and Sarmad’s fathers were in the army and their families were neighbors when they lived in Quetta. This was before Sarmad’s accident. Some years and several army postings later, a conversation with a mutual friend led Zehra to reconnect with him. It took them less than a year to realize that they wanted to marry. Both had their concerns owing to the particular circumstances they would face, but the concerns were with respect to the comfort and ease of each other. They did not need long to make their decision, though, and welcomed the support of both their families.
For Zehra, the thirteen years she and Sarmad were together was a time of tremendous growth. “We got married young, and we both saw each other mature over time, both personally and professionally. We both grew together as a couple, but being distinct personalities with independent pursuits, we made our own decisions.”
In her experience, few spouses can be as supportive as Sarmad was of her. “He was free of any hang-ups and insecurities. He always took great pride in all my achievements and, unlike so many men in a society like ours, he never held me back nor limited me in what I could and couldn’t do, always encouraging me to excel in everything I did and loved. I was frequently reminded of how grateful I was I’d married him, how lucky I was.” Once, he was due to leave for the UK for treatment and it coincided with a trip Zehra was to undertake for work to Afghanistan. Both were set with everything planned out, until, three days before Sarmad was due to leave, his blood pressure dropped low enough that he lost consciousness and had to be rushed to the hospital. He woke up 16 hours later and the first thing he asked Zehra when he saw her was, “Why didn’t you leave for Afghanistan? I made you promise!”
Sarmad was not a man who would covet others what he couldn’t do; there was no pettiness, only the genuine desire to see others achieve. “He was very big hearted that way,” says Zehra. “This was particularly admirable in his case because there was so much he wanted to do but was held back by his body.” His interests ranged in everything from sports, music and writing to cars and bikes. He never let it translate, however, into bitterness or frustration, always adjusting with ease and focusing on the next thing he wanted to achieve. Both being tremendously outdoorsy, a number of their activities revolved around athletic sports, be it bike riding, Sarmad’s well-known marathon runs, or off road excursions in their jeep.
With everyone he knew, Sarmad was a man who encouraged the pursuit of objectives. Passionate of living life and acutely aware of the smaller blessings, he had no patience with people who complained or were lazy and refused to help themselves. It disappointed him to see people who were able bodied but didn’t pursue opportunities to grow and take advantage of what they had.
“Anyone who realizes and is thankful for all the resources he has and plans to use them in the best possible manner is trying. Conversely everyone who keeps whining about the resources he does not have and blaming his fate or luck or the society or the man in the moon for that, is merely crying. Now for those who are in the habit of crying, I have no sympathy, or any words of advice. I am only concerned about those who are trying, or trying to try, or trying to try to try. For you, I have my whole life, all my experiences, all that I have learnt.”
Speaking at a motivational seminar
Kamran Rizvi, founding director of the management consulting and training firm Navitus, met Sarmad when the latter was working at the HR department in an oil and gas company. An unerring sense for potential turned him onto Sarmad’s capacities. Sarmad expressed an interest in working in the training and consulting field and Rizvi encouraged him to take up the mantle of life coach and motivational speaker. This turned out to be a calling of sorts and was so successful a venture that many people began approaching Sarmad with ideas for creating a foundation or an NGO for physically challenged people. But to all of them his answer would be that simply because I’m trapped in a wheelchair does not mean that this is all that I’m about or this is all I want to channel my energies into and let define me.
For a man who consistently surpassed obstacles as a way of life, Zehra feels Sarmad’s biggest challenge was that of physical endurance, and he had a tremendous capacity for it. But it wasn’t just the marathons or the drive from Khyber to Karachi or the specially built machine to accompany other bike riders. “There were people who thought of his story as glamorous in some ways. Here was a man who, by refusing to let a disability define him, was now an individual whose achievements had brought him fame and accolades. I think this came from the fact that Sarmad would make everything look so effortless. But what a lot of them didn’t realize was the day to day challenges he had to deal with, the bodily complications he’d been living with every day for years,” says Zehra. For his part, Sarmad simply kept at it, invoking his faith and his belief in self to boost him forward, right up to the last days.
“Dear God, I know you don’t give anyone more than he can take, I know you wouldn’t let me break, you wouldn’t let my belief shake, but if it isn’t too much to ask, I really really need a break!”
For Zehra, the physical endurance aspect was Sarmad’s biggest challenge. And part of how he would deal with it was by refusing to take a break once he began on something, concerned that if he paused for a moment, his health might interfere and he wouldn’t be able to continue. “He was always full of plans and had big ideas. But out of every 50 of them, he’d only manage to achieve about 10, not, though, for lack of will or trying.” The consistent physical issues that kept arising might have sapped courage and engendered the temptation to simply give in. But Sarmad dealt with it differently, often telling Zehra, “My disability liberated me. I’ve been able to do and experiment with a lot of stuff, get away with a lot of crazy things.”
Zehra believes that her husband’s biggest achievement cannot be focused into one single accolade. “I’d say it was a series of achievements, which eventually culminated into his becoming a writer; a good writer and an intense writer. That’s his legacy, what he has left for those of us who remain behind him. He was eloquent and articulate and that’s how he touched as many lives as he has.”
As a couple, they never planned too far ahead. “Beyond what was necessary for planning in terms of work and career, we would only focus on the months ahead. Towards the very end, we left even that and began to live hour to hour.”
But when you talk to Zehra, and see her reminisce about her husband, there is no sadness, no inkling of a negative emotion. She is forward looking, and emanates a resilient positivity you wouldn’t expect from someone who has just lost a life partner. She credits her late husband for that. “He was never bitter, never sapped your energy or made you miserable because of what he was going through. He just made you stronger. He made me stronger as a person, for being around him. I don’t feel as if I can’t go on; I’m not confused or helpless about where to pick up life from. The fortitude and optimism is what he left me with.”
I didn’t know who Sarmad Tariq was… until he passed away
Can someone you’ve never known, someone whose name you’ve never heard of, inspire you enough to rethink your entire life?
Apparently it can.
It was only a couple of Facebook posts and the news of his death that moved me, leaving me feeling a little broken inside
When I logged on to Twitter this morning, I found my timeline flooded with people mourning the death of Sarmad Tariq and talking about what a great person he was. Initially, I didn’t care much. I mean, people die all the time. Famous people die too. And everyone sings their praises after they are gone.
There was nothing very interesting about this news.
But after reading a number of tweets, I was intrigued enough to go to his Facebook page.
You changed my life #SarmadTariq , you told us that despite adversity what a man can achieve. Such a shame could not ever meet u.
— Syed Asad Raza (@asadrazasyed1) April 30, 2014
A man with a tattoo below his right ear saying ‘Allah’ and ‘About me’ description on his page reading,
“Not a saviour, not a leader, not a role model, just a tough act to follow”.
He seemed more like a director or an actor to me at first glance.
But there was more to him than what I could see from his display picture.
I scrolled down.
The last post on his Facebook page was an open letter to God, pleading Him for a break from his pain. He was severely sick with multiple diseases but he hadn’t seemed to have lost hope.
After reading a few more of his posts about the stark realities of life and death, I was left shaken inside and also felt guilty for not having known of him before, for finding out about him too late and for never having the chance to have met him.
A motivational speaker who was paralysed neck down due to a swimming accident when he was only 15-years-old, Sarmad had travelled the world on his wheelchair, represented the country and most-definitely touched a thousand hearts.
That was more than enough I needed to know about him.
I had not seen any documentaries about him, had never heard him talk and yet, in a matter of minutes, he became the person I wanted to meet just once; someone to draw inspiration from, to find hope to go through this life and to learn to live it to the fullest.
To me, Sarmad seemed like a person who had ‘life’ figured out. He didn’t just know but was constantly aware of the fact that death is imminent. He was prepared for it and wanted to make the most of every single moment of his life.
And he succeeded.
In one of his last posts, he said,
“Do all of us sooner or later realise that we are going to die? Yes. Do all of us eventually realise that we are alive? No. It is tragic but true. So many die without ever knowing that they were alive.”
Sarmad may have left this world, but he is not ‘dead’. And just like in life, his death is a lesson for all of us on how to live.
Rest in peace, Sarmad Tariq.
Hello Pakistan (May 2014)
Remembering a hero, Sarmad Tariq
a poem by Mr. Ijaz Rahim