at just 15, she is already the strongest player on her high school basketball team (picked to be one of the top five teams in our state), and now that she has begun a formal strength training program, her muscles have increased significantly. Of course, playing year around in a Nike-sponsored basketball program (one of a few dozen girls basketball programs Nike sponsors), and ranked among the top EYBL programs in the country, has certainly helped her strength and muscle growth also. Nike’s EYBL brand (Elite Youth Basketball League) draws the best players from the best travel teams in each state or region. Nike EYBL teams play in showcase tournaments throughout the U.S., in front of hundreds of college coaches. My daughter has drawn interest from several high Division I programs, and at nearly 6′ and 160 pounds AND ASIAN, she certainly does stand out in a sport in which almost no Asians participate, and those who do are typically small point guards.
The connection between my daughter and the body builder pictured below is that they are both Ethnic Kazakhs, a fact of which my daughter, who left Kazakhstan at 18 months of age to join our family in the American South, is extremely proud. She approaches each game as though she is a warrior protecting her aul from invading tribes, and trains very hard every day of the week to prepare for her battles/games.
While this may sound like just another “feel good story,” from a dad bragging about his daughter (and make no mistake–I am incredibly proud of her) unfortunately, that is not the case. For over two years, she was tormented by jealous teammates at her former school who called her “chink,” “slant-eyes,” “Commie,” and “nigger-lover” — a term picked up and hurled at my daughter beginning at a school home game when her previous AAU team and coaches (all African American) showed up at her school’s otherwise all white gym to watch her play. The term gained fashion any time her school team played a team with African American players. Of course, I reported the harassment and accompanying discrimination up through what seemed to be an assembly line of corrupt cronies who fashioned lies, feigned ignorance, and ensured my daughter was soundly punished and humiliated for my even insinuating (though I was very direct, accurate and timely) that these God-fearing stewards of every student’s happiness at that school (with all of their academic trophies) were even capable of harboring a prejudicial thought or bias of any kind toward another human soul.
After my many months of good faith efforts to attempt to fashion a solution to the culture of racism and intolerance (at this point limiting my communication to a single school board member, who appeared genuinely concerned, after being rebuffed by everyone associated with the girls basketball program and athletic director’s office), one day, nothing noteworthy about it, the lone “concerned” school board member abruptly stopped replying to or even acknowledging my text, email and voicemail messages. At this point, I contacted a large and well-respected Asian American civil rights group, who sent letters to the Superintendent and several school board members, complaining of the discrimination, harassment and retaliation (under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act) suffered by my daughter and advising the school district of their very clear obligations under Federal law to immediately stop the mistreatment. The letters sent by the civil rights group, like my many complaints to the school district’s repesentatives, were simply ignored. Without getting into the technical details of my daughter’s case, the civil rights group filed complaints, both the U.S. Department of Education and my state’s Commission on Human Rights are continuing to investigate that school district, though my daughter was forced to move to another school district, who was thrilled with her transfer, ensures that her academic needs are met and that she is socially happy there.
After the years of mistreatment by her own teammates, the cruelty inflicted upon her by the basketball staff and her removal from the varsity team and placed on the school’s JV team, as a little-used reserve–just months after the varsity coach proclaimed my daughter to possess, by far, the greatest skill set of anyone on the varsity team–my daughter’s self-confidence and basketball play suffered greatly. Her pride and self esteem had suffered far too many serious blows for a 13 year old girl to handle. Just a few weeks after the conclusion of the nightmare of a season, she began playing for a new AAU team whose players welcomed her with open arms and a few months later won our state’s AAU Division I state championship and won several other prestigious tournaments. In the meantime, Jeremy Lin set up a video chat with my daughter (at the urging of his mother who had read about my daughter’s mistreatment in the Asian American media) and he spoke with her for nearly 30 minutes discussing their shared experiences. Later that year, she was invited to try out for and was selected to play for the Nike EYBL team for which she still plays.
Rather than dwelling on her mistreatment, my daughter (the strong Kazakh she is) has chosen the Kazakh warrior path of getting stromger emotionally and physically, vowing not to lose another battle if there is even the slightest possible chance of pulling out a victory. I tell her she is made of hearty stock, DNA forged over the millenia on the Central Asian Steppes, descended from the likes of Ghengis Khan and possessing the best traits from her shared Turkish-Mongolian ancestry. I tell her she possesses an intangible advantage that no opponent can match–the ability to never give-up, to use her incredible strength in the face of adversity and to use her snow leopard quickness to jump out on an opponent before they see her coming. I tell her that she, herself, represents the embodiment of these traits simply because she is alive and present today because had her biological ancestors not possessed these traits the DNA that makes her who she is could not have survived, but would have perished on an unknown battlefield in the harsh Central Asian Steppes. I tell her that she is beautiful and that I did not know the true meaning of love until I was blessed beyond measure by accepting the privilege of being her papa. I tell her that she can and will achieve any goal she pursues. But most of all, I tell her I believe in her, with every ounce of my being, I believe in her.
Kazakh sportsman Daniya Tleumbetova won gold in women’s model physique at the 47th Asian Bodybuilding and Fitness Championships.