A swimming accident at the age of 15 left Sarmad Tariq paralyzed from the left shoulder down and forced him to use a wheelchair. But that didn't prevent the man from Islamabad, Pakistan, from traveling the world as a motivational speaker and marathon athlete.
In his country and abroad, many were inspired by Tariq, who took in his stride whatever impossible odds nature put in his path.
Tariq, who was also a fiction writer, died in the morning hours of April 30, 2014, in his home at the age of 38.
He maintained a blog and Facebook profile where he was open with readers about his health and history and made it clear that he wasn't looking for pity. On March 16, 2014, he posted what became his last entry to his Facebook page and blog, describing his perseverance:
Quadriplegia, autonomic dysreflexia, sepsis, malaria, chronic bronchitis, bed sores and only you can tell how many more. You know that I currently suffer from more ailments that a common person can pronounce. Just during the past one month I have been rushed to the hospital twice in critical condition. […] My family members are on the verge of nervous breakdowns. I regularly lose consciousness, get breathless by the simple act of speaking, see my body temperature rise to extreme highs and drop to unbelievable lows. […]
And yet… yet I am not complaining. I live on, I keep smiling, my faith does not waver, I refuse to lose hope, I am a survivor. You know I am doing my best.
But… Dear God, I know you don't give anyone more than he can take, I know you wouldn't let me break, you wouldn't let my belief shake, but if it isn't too much to ask, I really really need a break!
An outpouring of posts commemorating Tariq online followed the news of his death.
Awab Alvi, a Global Voices author and a TED senior fellow from Pakistan, remembered Tariq's TEDxKarachi 2011 appearance in a Facebook post:
In the run-up to the event, I had only “heard” about his story, I emailed him a couple of times, and talked to him over the phone to setup logistics and other details a few times prior to the event, but when he took to the stage, a quadriplegic in his wheelchair, wearing a Think Positive T-shirt, a bold white watch & a fumbling mineral water bottle – nothing prepared us for what he would say in the next 22 minutes – by the end of the speech, probably each of the 450 member audience had goosebumps and simply could not help giving this amazing man a long well deserved standing ovation.
Here is his speech from TEDxKarachi:
Shireen Naqvi, director at the School of Leadership in Karachi, thanked Tariq:
Besides being grateful for the limitless times you have enriched our lives in personal and team gatherings, I thank you for standing by our side, amongst us, every time, to turn the youth of our country into leaders with compassion, resolve and foresight.[..] Your legacy shall live on!
Isfandiyar Shaheen, one of Tariq's neighbours, recalled Tariq's keys to happiness:
Sarmad Tariq passed away. I knew him in the years prior to his accident. He was our neighbour, my earliest memory of him was fighting a bout of boxing in his own home and his love for Rocky 4. He said the key to happiness is I) absence of complaints, II) absence of regrets, III) absence of fear and IV) a constant source of self fulfillment. I asked him once how or why he didn't regret his accident. To which he replied that had not dived into that nehar, he would have probably joined the army and would have become a mediocre officer, but instead his handicap enabled him to actualise his potential.
On Twitter, Jehan ara, the president of Pakistan Software Houses Association for IT & ITES, wrote:
So sorry to hear of the demise of #SarmadTariq who proved that if one really wants to achieve something in life,there r no limitations #RIP
— jehan_ara (@jehan_ara) April 30, 2014
Rai M Azlan, Global Voices Urdu Lingua co-editor, eulogized Tariq:
Sarmad Tariq the ‘Chairman’ passed away. He was a motivator, never let his wheelchair to become his disability. #RIPSarmadTariq
— Rai M. Azlan (@Mussanaf) April 30, 2014
Social media editor for newspaper The Express Tribune Ema Anis confessed in a web column that she hadn't known of Tariq until after his death, when a flood of tweets like the above mourning him took over Twitter. With her curiosity piqued, she read more about him. What she learned left her “shaken”:
I had not seen any documentaries about him, had never heard him talk and yet, in a matter of minutes, he became the person I wanted to meet just once; someone to draw inspiration from, to find hope to go through this life and to learn to live it to the fullest.
To me, Sarmad seemed like a person who had ‘life’ figured out. He didn’t just know but was constantly aware of the fact that death is imminent. He was prepared for it and wanted to make the most of every single moment of his life.
And he succeeded.
Some on social media are considering organizing readings in Pakistan of Tariq's writings to commemorate him. In the meantime, those who want to read his writings on their own can visit Tariq's Facebook page and blog.
He was truly an amazing person. More about him on these links:
Sarmad Tariq was such an amazing, beautiful human being. I hope his legacy, stories and words of wisdom continue to echo years beyond his short but extraordinary life.