CHANTILLY, Va. - Since the war in Afghanistan, there have been 2.6 million Afghan refugees worldwide. But only 20,000 of those have settled in the United States. One of them is Ali Ebadi, who is embracing every opportunity in his new country on the tennis court and in life.
Ebadi is a key contributor for the Westfield High School Bulldogs tennis team as they are making a run in the Virginia state playoffs. He describes himself as a consistent player, a good volleyer and an all-around player.
“No matter who my opponent is, I go there to win,” Ebadi said. “My coach, Blake Murray, he would say, you're more mature on the court.”
He is more mature on the court because he had to grow up so quickly off of it.
“Growing up in Afghanistan, it’s tough,” he said. “If I compare it to life here, it's not even comparable. I’m just glad that I'm here because my life would be just nothing if I was back there.”
Back there is Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, where Ebadi lived there until 2013.
“For people here, they are not going to believe the stories,” he told us. “It’s just fictional for them.”
The dangers that Ebadi and his family faced in Kabul are almost unfathomable to most American teenagers.
“My sister, they tried to kidnap her, but she ran away,” Ebadi said. “My dad, there was an attack on him, and he got injured too. I remember once, me and my mom were in a taxi and we were going somewhere. Three or four cars in front of us, there was a suicide attack, which broke every window. That was the closest I got.”
He speaks so matter of fact about kidnappings and suicide bombers because those terrors are just a part of everyday life in Afghanistan.
“Everyone in Afghanistan, when they get out of their house, they are not sure that they can make it back to the house,” he said.
Ebadi appreciates everything that has been afforded him in America – even down to the fresh felt on a basket of practice tennis balls.
“Here you see thousands of balls, hundreds of balls at every academy,” said Ebadi. “We used to wait weeks I remember to get new balls from Iran and Tajikistan. They didn't have tennis balls inside Afghanistan so we had to wait for the balls to get shipped.”
His teammates, accustomed to the pristine hard courts at Westfield, can't even believe he learned to play the game in tough conditions over in Afghanistan. Ebadi said they would call them clay courts, but they were really like sand and dust put together.
Ebadi said, “They always say, ‘Were you even playing tennis? Were those even tennis courts?’ I was like, ‘Yeah, we had a net.’”
But that is all he needs – a net, a racket and a ball. He is also ready to win. He has led the Bulldogs into the Virginia state regionals and he hopes to continue his career in college. He wants to eventually get a degree in medicine and fulfill the dreams of his father.
“Never take anything for granted because there are some people living really poorly with no facilities and opportunities on the other side of the world,” said Ebadi. “Some people, they think the American Dream is dead, but I'm trying to prove [it’s not] and I'm on my way.”