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Wednesday, May 10, 2000

By Kathryn Bender, Star-Bulletin
Kaimuki High School held a special assembly to promote
a basketball exhibition with Khan Wali, right. War in
Afghanistan drove Wali's parents to Pakistan, where a good
Samaritan stepped in. Wali is now an award-winning
athlete eager to help other disabled kids.

Role model
to graduate

Despite polio, the Afghan
Kaimuki student became a
strong wheelchair athlete

By Crystal Kua


YEARS after the then-Soviet Union invaded his home country of Afghanistan, Khan Wali continues a lifelong battle of his own -- against polio.

Now, an 18-year-old senior and wheelchair athlete at Kaimuki High School, Wali fights not only for himself but for other disabled students.

"It's a dream come true," Wali said, referring to his American education. "Graduation is a big thing for me."

With a smile that outshined his sunny yellow Nike tank top, Wali's muscular upper body is worthy of any student athlete.

Yesterday, Kaimuki High School held a special assembly to promote a wheelchair basketball exhibition that featured Wali.

He said the exhibition was a way for him to give back to a country and a community that has given so much: "I owe them something."

Born the oldest of seven children at the height of the Soviet occupation in his homeland, Wali was diagnosed with polio when he was a year old.

The war, a topic he's reluctant to talk about, led to Wali's parents moving to Pakistan, where they now live.

Most of his childhood was spent crawling on his stomach, the front of his clothes always dirty, he said.

But in 1989, at the age of 8, a Good Samaritan brought Wali and other children of the region to Hawaii to undergo corrective surgery that enabled Wali to walk upright on crutches before returning to Pakistan.

In 1996, pain in his legs led to Wali's return to Hawaii for more surgery at the Shriners Hospital with the help of his U.S. sponsor, retired Navy officer William Christensen.

It also gave Wali an opportunity to attend school, which was his dream, here.

Before attending Kaimuki High School, Wali didn't have any formal education and couldn't speak English.

"He was very hesitant," teacher Victoria Pescaia said.

Pescaia and others at Kaimuki High who followed his progress saw his confidence build.

"His attitude and motivation is incredible," teacher Iris Ahue said. "He's like a sponge. He wants to learn as much as can."

WALI showed that he not only could tackle academics but athletics as well.

He competed in the 1998 Junior Olympics and won medals in three events. He also became the first wheelchair athlete to compete in OIA track and field events, school officials said.

He hopes to open the doors to physical education programs and athletic competitions for all disabled students.

Recalling a meeting he had with a mother who told him how her son was depressed because of the teasing and bullying by other kids, Wali said, "I don't like to see disabled kids going home sad or mad. It's also hard on the parents to deal with that stuff."

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