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Afghan national women's wheelchair basketball team captain Nilofar Bayat with her husband Ramish Naik Zai in Bilbao, Spain, Aug. 22, 2021.VINCENT WEST/Reuters

The Taliban left an impact early on Afghan basketballer Nilofar Bayat.

In an instant, they changed her life forever.

Bayat, who is the captain of Afghanistan’s women’s wheelchair basketball team, was just two years old, when a rocket hit her house in Kabul, injuring her spinal cord.

“They put an unstoppable pain in our lives. A permanent disability that we have to accept.”

In the wake of the Taliban’s takeover last week, she joined the thousands desperate to leave the country.

For days she and her husband Ramesh waited amid the chaos at Kabul’s airport.

“When I saw Taliban for the first time, around the airport, how dangerous they are, how they were shooting, beating. I told Ramesh that I wanted to leave the country because I cannot live with these people.”

In recent years, Bayat was hopeful things were changing in Afghanistan. She was part of a generation that enjoyed freedoms for women, with access to education and work.

She and her husband – who was also injured by a mine – wanted to stay in the capital Kabul and keep improving the country.

But their dreams – were cut short.

“They will destroy all the wishes, all the achievements, all we did in the last 20 years. In Afghanistan we had many wishes, I was thinking about improving my basketball, my job, my studies. He just graduated from university, he wanted to improve, but they destroyed it. Living in another country and starting from zero is not easy.”

Now, she has been offered to play for a wheelchair basketball team in the northern Spanish city of Bilbao.

Thanks to the Spanish government and the Spanish Basketball Federation she was given a place on a plane out of Kabul, arriving to safety on Friday.

Although she is safe in Spain, her heart is still in Afghanistan.

“I want to tell them, ‘You are so strong that you are still there.’ We know living in Afghanistan is not easy, we pray from here for them to be safe. Please, don’t give up and don’t accept all the rules of Taliban because if you accept today, they will put in another rule tomorrow.”

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