It’s 2am on a summer night and Tahreem Ali can’t sleep.
In a few hours, she has another training session at a local gym in Preston, Victoria, but the 14-year-old’s gruelling workout routine isn’t what is keeping her up at that time of the night.
Pakistan-born Tahreem wants to fight for Australia, but if her family’s protection visa application is rejected she’ll return to Pakistan where she will not be able to box.
This uncertainty has kept her and her family awake over many nights. Any given day could be their last in Australia. All hopes rest on the Australian government’s prerogative to allow them to stay here.
I started here, I want to do it for Australia, so start with Victorian championship first and then work my way up to Australian (national champion) then Commonwealth Games
Her father Amir Ali claims there are threats to his family’s life in Pakistan and has applied for a protection visa in Australia. The government has rejected the application; Mr Ali has filed for a review.
Until a decision is reached, he is allowed to stay and work in Australia and send his children to school, but can’t leave the country.
To keep her dream of becoming a Commonwealth boxing champion alive, Tahreem has had to overcome many hurdles; one of them was to wear shorts while training and the other, to muster the courage to ask permission from her father to do so.
“It’s hard to train in trousers and trackies,” she says. “And sometimes when it is very hot here you can’t do it, when you are training specially, so [I] wanted to wear shorts and I thought my dad wouldn’t let me.”
But her father has proven to be much more supportive than she actually thought.
As an aid worker hailing from the Balochistan province of Pakistan, Mr Ali has had a bumpy ride.
“I was working for women’s health and education [in Pakistan], and feeling a lot of pressure, a lot of [threatening] phone calls, and I was moving from one town to another.”
I am proud because she is doing well and I hope she will excel future, not only in the Victorian (boxing circuit) but on national level
Mr Ali came to Australia in 2012 and later brought his family here, claiming they had received death threats in Pakistan.
“We are here in the safe community;” says Mr Ali. “People are welcoming us here all the time, the schools are good, the gym people are accepting us.”
“Over there (in Pakistan) we can’t do these sorts of things.”
Mr Ali wants his children to live their lives with confidence and courage; and he has seen Tahreem overcoming her hesitations.
She has come to a point where now she feels comfortable sparring with boys, something that she could not think of doing in Pakistan.
“Boys are actually harder than the older woman,” says Tahreem.
“I was scared [of sparring with boys] before, but now it is easy and it is better for me, because in future I will be better.”
Tahreem’s coach Richard Lewer has also showered praise on her.
“Growing up she must have experienced things I can’t imagine,” he says. “And courage is a big part of it.”
“And courage is a big part of boxing and it’s incredible Tahreem doesn’t show fear in the ring – regardless whether she’s against a boy a girl – it doesn’t matter, she always comes back for more.”
Courage is a big part of boxing and it’s incredible Tahreem doesn’t show fear in the ring – regardless whether she’s against a boy a girl
Her efforts have made her father proud.
“I am proud because she is doing well and I hope she will excel future, not only in the Victorian (boxing circuit) but on national level,” he says.
She is equally thankful.
“He’s open minded and he doesn’t mind [me boxing]. Whatever I ask him, he is letting me do it, I am grateful.”
Tahreem wants to represent Australia in Commonwealth Games.
“I started here, I want to do it for Australia, so start with Victorian championship first and then work my way up to Australian (national champion) then Commonwealth Games.”