For many people, the word "dodgeball" evokes memories of getting hit in the face with a red rubber ball on the playground. But that's not what comes to mind for Paniz Asgari. When she thinks about dodgeball she thinks strategy. And training. And world championships.
The 29-year-old D.C. resident was recently selected to join the 2013 U.S. Women's National Dodgeball Team. At the end of September, Asgari and her teammates head to New Zealand for the world championships. Yep, Asgari is flying halfway around the world. To play dodgeball. For her country.
That all might seem a little silly. But Asgari takes it seriously.
"I'm not offended that some people might think dodgeball is silly," she says. "But get on the court. Come play with me and we'll see if you end up thinking it's still silly."
After a session of dodgeball tips and tricks at the Georgetown University Law Center, Asgari proves she is definitely no slouch on the dodgeball court. And in her regular league play, she is often the last person standing on her team. But she's sort of predestined to be good. Dodgeball is in her blood.
Asgari is Persian. She was born in Tehran and immigrated to the U.S. with her family when she was 2-and-a-half. And apparently, Persians love dodgeball. Their version of the game is called vasati.
"The Persian version of dodgeball is where you have one team in the middle almost like Monkey in the Middle. But instead of throwing the ball over so you can't get it, they try to hit you," she explains. "So the second team is split on either side of you and they throw the ball back and forth. And you just keep playing until they get everyone out."
Vasati is still really popular in the Persian ex-pat community. Asgari remembers playing all the time when she was growing up in Northern Virginia.
"Picnics, barbecues, everybody plays. Every chance I ever got I played dodgeball with friends, family at those picnics," she says. "I'm coming into this with an unfair advantage."
Asgari's parents fled Iran during the height of the Iran/Iraq war. In Iran, her father was an architect. Her mother was a nurse. When they left their lives in Tehran and landed in the U.S., they had to start over.
Asgari's mother got a job handing out Yellow Pages for 5 cents a book. Her father found work driving a taxi. But over time they returned to the professions they had before the war.
"My parents were upper-middle class, educated Iranians. And they left everything," Asgari says. "I am forever grateful for their sacrifice. For them to give up everything they ever knew to make my life absolutely amazing."
And a big part of that amazing life is dodgeball. Asgari takes the sport seriously and leaves it all on the court. Her immigrant parents taught her that.
"From my parent's experience, my takeaway was never be lazy, never take anything for granted," she says. "So there's no option to quit."
[Music: "Cannonball" by The Breeders from Last Splash]
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