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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Two Athletes on the Afghanistan National Water Polo Team have Died

Over the past year, I have received phone calls, emails, or questions directly from people that heard what we are doing and ask me questions or say to me:

"Is the Afghanistan National Water Polo Team is a joke?"

"Are you serious?"

"That is too funny. "

"Is this for real?"

Two athletes on the team have died in combat operations in Afghanistan. I was told this today by Rohullah Marouf, the Swim Chair, at the Afghanistan National Olympic Committee. Abdullah Tahiri, Scott McCook, and I were on a conference call with him about the passports for the athletes today. He is trying to get more information on who specifically died.

Once Rohullah said this, and Abdullah translated, I felt like I was going to vomit. Most likely, these athletes were also on the 201st Corps Swim and Water Polo Team, who I spent many months with, training them, teaching them something new, making them smile, and taking them away from the war, even for a few minutes of their lives. These athletes could also have been in the 201st Commando Kandak (Battalion), which meant I probably worked with them every day for a year, spent time with them mentoring them their jobs, drinking tea with them, talking about sports, movies, and current affairs, and even watched soap operas in Farsi with them.

I was thinking about what a short life that these athletes, who were also soldiers in the Afghan National Army, had. I started thinking about their families. What if they were married or had children? Who is going to provide for their family now? Who is going to be the father of their children? Who is going to teach their children to do the right things in life, educate them? Who is going to stop the Taliban from educating these children, taking their families' food, and harming their families? Who is going to protect this family, or the village they live in from the Taliban?

All of these feelings, questions, and concerns, and I still do not know exactly who was killed. Once I know this information, I know I will be sick. I will be sick because I did not move fast enough. I should have:

Moved faster,

Convinced more people to get involved,

Had our elected officials in office move faster,

Somehow convinced some airline executive to provide air travel,

Been more effective in contacting a decision maker at the US Department of State that could provide guidance and support of this project.

Closed deals with affluent individuals and big corporations on donations and sponsorships...

The list is endless of things that I could done better and more of. But the fact remains that there are now two less heroes that Afghanistan could have had. Two less upstanding citizens who really could have unified their country, shown their countrymen what could be accomplished, shown the children of a very poor and war-torn country how to dream, build cultural bridges between Afghanistan and countries of the Western World, and shared their future personal, cultural, educational, and business experiences in other countries with people in their villages, provinces, and country, to make Afghanistan a better place.

I will never be able to talk with these athletes again, shake their hands, hug them, listen to them, see their excitement when they talk about the future, see them with true happiness in the pool, or watch them learn something new.

If I would have just made this project happen more quickly, these athletes would not have been killed fighting the Taliban, or even in a war zone for that matter. They would have been in the United States training as a team for water polo. They never saw a place without war, they never had an opportunity to make their country a better place, they never got to see why America and the Western World are so great, and they never became heroes for their country, a country that needs heroes so desperately.

This was not a case of could have, should have, would have.

This was a case of could not have and should not have had this opportunity in a million years. And then, they died. Before they would partake in the impossible feat of having a national water polo team in Afghanistan that would be following the pathway to the Olympic Dream.

This is for real. This is so real, and I failed to save two lives. My record now for losing people involved in water polo in Afghanistan is three. How many national team athletes has your country's national team lost today, this week, this month, this year, or this decade?

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