Lack of internet connectivity aside, things continue to go swimmingly in Mazar. Both the men’s and women’s teams are very enthusiastic and are learning new skills very quickly. It feels like they’re finally breaking through several old habits on this trip, with shooting technique being chief among their improvements. There’s still only one player – the aforementioned Sayed Mohammed – who has truly good shooting form, but the others are getting closer by the day.

A funny thing happened yesterday that was both encouraging and a bit shocking related to Sayed and his shooting. After the morning practice ended, he and two of the other players asked me if I’d play a shooting contest with them where each player is required to make a shot from 15 spots on the floor. Whomever makes each shot first is the winner. I was stunned when Sayed actually beat me at the game! I’m certainly not claiming to be the greatest shooter in the world, but to have an Afghan player shoot well enough to beat me (Sayed made four consecutive three point shots at one point!) was a serious turning point in the evolution of the sport here. The elation on Sayed’s face when he made his final shot made losing the contest 1000 percent worth it. If he can help other top players learn to play with his technique and efficiency, the soon-to-be Afghan national team could become competitive even more quickly than I’d hoped!

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While in Mazar, I’m staying with several colleagues at the same ICRC house I was in last year. It’s nice to be in familiar surroundings. Since I was last here, however, there has been one major change to the house. The current head of the ICRC Mazar delegation, a Belgian named Pierre, is an avid rock climber. Pierre worked with a local Afghan carpenter to build a professional-quality climbing wall in the basement of the house so he could practice his craft and get others who are based here to join him. It’s the coolest guest house feature I’ve ever seen! The ceilings in the basement are around 10 feet high and the wall fills an entire side of the house from floor to ceiling. It’s unbelievable.

It was mentioned on my first day here that every visiting ICRC employee is required to take a shot at climbing the wall so, naturally, I insisted on trying it myself.  I hadn’t done any rock climbing since I’ve been in a wheelchair, so I had no idea if it was even possible for me to climb such a wall, but I figured it would be a good workout even if I couldn’t scale it. I started sitting on the floor so I would have the maximum height of wall to ascend and, after a few attempts, managed to complete one of the pathways with some light assistance from my colleague Joakim. It was so much fun – and so difficult! – and I can’t wait to try it again once my forearms resume functioning. My goal is to reach the top of the wall with no assistance at all before I head back to Kabul in a week.

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Beginning the ascent

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Nearly to the “summit”!

Tomorrow is my last day training the Mazar teams before the Maimana team arrives for a series of two-a-day sessions Saturday, Sunday and Monday. We’ll then have an exhibition game between the Mazar and Maimana men’s teams, which – even though it won’t count for anything official – should be ultra-competitive and a great time.