Zahra Nemati: IPC award will inspire women with disabilities in Iran and globally

The Paralympic Champion and an advocate for women and disability rights won the IPC's '2021 International Women’s Day Recognition' in the Next Generation category 09 Mar 2021
Zahra Nemati
Iran's Zahra Nemati competed at both the Paralympic and Olympics in Rio
ⒸMatthias Hangst/Getty Images
By Priyanka Sharma, Asian Paralympic Committee | For the IPC

It is the ‘never give up’ attitude that has always elevated Iran’s Zahra Nemati to newer heights, including her latest accolade as the International Paralympic Commitee’s 2021 International Women’s Day Recognition winner in the Next Generation category. 

From becoming the first ever Iranian Paralympic or Olympic gold medallist in 2012 to speaking up globally on women and disability rights, Nemati has paved the path for the coming generation of women leaders. 

“I am very happy as I represent the Iranian women,” the Para archer said. “It’s an honour for me to win the award but it comes with huge responsibility. This IPC award will inspire women with disabilities in Iran and globally.

“The most important thing is you need to have a goal and you should dream to achieve it,” she continued. “Achieving your goals is what will give you happiness in your life.” 

A trailblazer, role model and a back-to-back Paralympic gold medallist, Nemati has never looked back ever since a car accident in 2004 injured her spinal-cord.

Prior to the life-changing incident, Nemati was a black belt in taekwondo. Since then, she has channeled her athletic passion to Para archery, where she has risen to become a Paralympic and world champion. She is also the first United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Ambassador of Global Understanding. She made it into the history books by competing at both the Olympic and Paralympic Games at Rio 2016, becoming the first Iranian athlete and first Asian woman to do so. 

The 35-year-old from Kerman does not see her high profile as a job: “It’s not a responsibility. I am thinking that there is a goal and I want to achieve it to inspire and motivate other women with disability, to show them the way. I want to guide them; be a light for them. I want to set examples for others; for the women in Iran and globally.” 


Two years after the accident, Nemati, a university student then, took up archery and needed just six months to compete in her first National Championships, where she finished third among able-bodied competitors. She went on to win an individual bronze and team silver and bronze medals in Asian competitions during that period. In her very first Para archery appearance at the 2010 Czech Republic Championships, Nemati broke the world record while winning a number of medals in individual and team events.

Zahra Nemati was the flagbearer at the 2016 Olympics

“I found Para archery very interesting and attractive at the first instance,” the Iranian explained. “I like the challenges the sport unfolds; the challenges by the sport itself and by my opponents. Besides, it has brought to me a lot of honour and achievements in my life. So, Para archery is special to me. 

“In fact, after the accident, my life changed completely – from one life to a very new one. And now I have a new characteristic, new personality. I can’t say there are no problems, but with adaptations, I am living with it.

“And Para archery gave a new meaning to my life. I was able to compete with abled-bodied athletes and at the Olympics. Thus, I would like to once again state that sport is one of the strongest tools to overcome disability.”


Nemati is eyeing a third straight Paralympic title at this summer’s Games but she is well aware that the task on hand is not straightforward. At the recently concluded Fazza Para Archery World Ranking Tournament Dubai 2021, she lost out in the final to Turkey’s Yagmur Sengul.

“After the London 2012 gold, it was very difficult to win again,” Nemati admitted. “Repeating the achievement [Rio 2016] was very difficult and I worked very hard for it. It was a very interesting challenge and I want to continue repeating my achievements in Tokyo 2020 and further.”

In fact, Nemati has not seen her family in Kemran for nine months due to her training camp in Tehran and the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“I am undergoing different types of training - technical and physical fitness - every day. Even this competition (Fazza Tournament) was part of our training as due to this pandemic, there was no competition. It was great to be in the field to test my strength and work on my weakness. 

“To have the champion thought and champion personality is what I always strive for,” she continued. “My strength is my strong mind.”