Morteza Mehrzadselakjani had an unusual introduction to sitting volleyball, the sport he helped Iran capture gold in at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games 12 months ago.
“I was sitting at home isolated for five years due to my height until I was invited onto a TV show, and then I was invited to try sitting volleyball,” said Mehrzadselakjani, who at 2.46m was the tallest Paralympian at Rio 2016.
He tried out, and the rest is history. He led Iran’s tally in the Paralympic final with 28 points.
It has not been smooth sailing as the outside hitter said he struggled to come to terms with his condition and found living with his impairment tough. However he has now learned to “live together” with it.
Mehrzadselakjani, like many others before him, found sport to be his way of dealing with whatever life threw at him. Before he was diagnosed, he loved playing football and participating in karate.
It is his passion for physical activity that continues to drive the 29-year-old who now calls sport his profession.
Rio 2016 was his Paralympic debut, and Mehrzadselakjani was part of a continued success for the Iranian men’s national team (six gold and two silver medals in eight Paralympic appearances).
“Before I started playing sitting volleyball, people would look at me with open mouths but after joining the sport, and winning a gold medal at the Paralympics, people are now happy to meet me and take selfies!”
Asked on what he wanted to achieve with his new found fame, Mehrzadselakjani was quick to encourage others to get out of their comfort zones and take up sport: “Sport is vital for people with impairments. I was shy and not so talkative, I was afraid to talk at first but my teammates treated me well and supported me. It helps people with disabilities to lift their spirits and also helps develop self-confidence.
“Those who are afraid to try something new shouldn’t fear sport, human beings can only continue to progress by adapting to changes.”
Mehrzadselakjani assured he is not done competing.
“My main dream is to stand once more on the Paralympic podium,” he said.