Paralympic champion escapes Afghanistan, starting over in San Antonio

San Antonio Wheelchair Spurs coach says newest player ‘a great addition’

SAN ANTONIO – Each of the players with the San Antonio Wheelchair Spurs is a standout in their own way, yet now they’ve been joined by Mohammad Bilal Mirbat Zai, a national Paralympic champion in Afghanistan.

Being an international basketball player, his new coach Willie Jackson said, “He has the ability to improve my defense and offense, so he’s going to be a great addition.”

Jackson said Mirbat Zai brings “a lot of strength because of the things that he’s had to go through, makes him a very wise and strong individual.”

The day after the suicide bombings outside the Kabul Airport, Mirbat Zai and his wife Humaira Sediqui waited in fear of more explosions before they were able to fly out of the country.

Each was working with international aid groups helping disabled athletes, which he said made them targets for the Taliban.

His wife, who lost a leg as a child when a bomb exploded outside her home, worked with the International Committee for the Red Cross, which sponsored the national wheelchair basketball team of Afghanistan.

He worked with Free to Run, an organization that supports female athletes in areas of conflict around the world.

Heightening an already emotional turning point in their lives, Mirbat Zai said his wife’s mother had passed away the day she learned they were expecting their first child.

A week later, he said, they arrived in the United States.

However, Mirbat Zai, who developed polio in one leg as a boy, had to abandon his customized wheelchair, which he used to compete in numerous international games.

“With that wheelchair, I’m very good,” Mirbat Zai said. “I can go and I can go fast.”

He said the wheelchair he’s using now is too large and too high, so it’s harder to maneuver.

“A custom wheelchair fit right to Mohammad is going to be like a new pair of tennis shoes,” said Coach Jackson. “It’ll be able to take his skill set to another level.”

The problem is, Jackson said, a custom wheelchair could cost up to $7,000.

“We’ll try to raise the money, and if we can get help in the community, we greatly welcome it,” Jackson said.

Meanwhile, Mirbat Zai, who has a bachelor’s degree in finance and business administration, and his wife, who specializes in prosthetics, are both looking for work, as well as a place to live which is wheelchair accessible.

Mirbat Zai is also a skateboarder. Click here to watch him in action.

About the Authors:

Jessie Degollado has been with KSAT since 1984. She is a general assignments reporter who covers a wide variety of stories. Raised in Laredo and as an anchor/reporter at KRGV in the Rio Grande Valley, Jessie is especially familiar with border and immigration issues. In 2007, Jessie also was inducted into the San Antonio Women's Hall of Fame.

Bill Caldera has been at KSAT since 2003. He covers a wide range of stories including breaking news, weather, general assignments and sports.