T.In Ahmed Sharif’s home in Baghdad, his traditions were almost religious. Everything stopped when football was on TV. His father, brothers, uncles, cousins, whoever was nearby gathered around the table to watch the beautiful game.
For the young Sharif, Barcelona was his team and his loyalty was unwavering. One day he played and made a name for himself internationally like his hero on the pitch.
“I always played football and my dream was to be on a professional team, but my blindness prevented me from realizing that dream,” said Sharif, now 25.
In 2004, as the war between the United States and Iraq raged, one of many bombs exploded in Baghdad. Seven-year-old Shareef was caught in a violent shootout while walking home from school. He heard an explosion and turned, losing his sight and right arm.
Eighteen years later, Shareef, now an American citizen living in Staten Island, New York, was named to the first-ever American blind soccer men’s varsity team.
“People say, ‘You’re blind, how do you play football like that?’ Sharef said. “There’s a barrier… I got around it. Now I’m on the national team. The Iraqi-born, blind man with one arm lost his sight during the US-Iraq War and is now I wear America on my shirt, I can’t tell you how that happened.”
It’s a Hollywood story, but most directors turn it down, saying it’s overblown. It all started when Elissa Montanti, founder of the Global Medical Relief Fund, was informed by a U.S. Major of Sharif’s injuries. Montanti took Shareef to America to go to work.
“I contacted 20 different doctors and exhausted all the possibilities he could see,” recalls Montanti. “I got him a prosthetic eye and a prosthetic hand. He’s been here for a few months and is back. They come back when they run out of prosthetic legs, so he’s back again. 15 years old.” When I came back at the time, I asked his mother if I could keep him because he had no future.
“I’ll give you a scenario,” Shareef explains. If I don’t stay here and go back to Iraq, I face three things. First, I have no education. Second, every country has its own culture, but my country’s culture did not support me as a disabled person. There are no services for the blind, you can’t walk outside with a cane, and people are suspicious of you. Third, it’s safe. “
Shareef’s mother agreed and Montanti became his legal guardian and enrolled Shareef in Curtis High School. Shareef graduated there and still works as a jazz teacher and international student consultant. he made it He wanted to live the American dream, to be a professional athlete, to be a singer in a rock and roll band, like any other kid.
He currently sings and plays keyboards in his group Blind Ambition. On the athlete side, in 2018 I received an email about the launch of a blind soccer program by the American Association for the Blind (USABA). Shareef’s life came full circle. After he followed up with USABA, he was invited to camp in San Diego in 2019. He was named to Team USA for 2022.
Team USA head coach Katie Smith said, “His understanding of the game is very good. He was an incredible defender, showing his defensive and tackling skills on the field along with his ability to match the sound of the ball and deliver the ball to his teammates.”
The 12-man team is ready to compete at the 2028 Paralympic Games in Los Angeles, with Team USA automatically entered. In the meantime, friendly matches will start in 2023, followed by tournaments. This sport has many similarities to soccer as we all know it. Brazil is the team to beat, but there are so many differences in the 5v5 setup. Steel his beads on the inside of the ball to make it audible to the players, Eye his shades to ensure a level playing field, and the goalie’s sight. This is a physical game, and some of the skills displayed will embarrass sighted players.
And finally, Ahmed Shareff has a chance to follow his dreams on the pitch. Given the option of winning gold in 2028 or a record deal with Blind Ambition, it makes us wonder what he would choose.
“Music will always be there. But if you ask me which one I would choose, I can’t answer because football gives me another feeling. Music is another feeling.”
He pauses, then laughs.
“I’ll do both. I’ll win a gold medal and sign a record deal.”
surprised? Montanti is different.
“I can’t stop this kid,” she said. “there is nothing.”