By Beth Rasin
Venerable squash legend Hashim Khan was bestowed the highest honor from his native Pakistan when he received the Sitara-i-Imtiaz (Star of Distinction) from Pakistani Ambassador to the United States Husain Haqqani during an investiture ceremony on August 24, at the Denver Athletic Club, before an audience of 200 supporters and friends.
Growing up in the village of Navi Killi in the northwest frontier of Pakistan, eight-year-old Hashim became a squash ball boy at the local British officers’ club, retrieving the ball when it sailed out of the open roofed courts. After picking up a discarded racquet, Hashim became mesmerized by the sport, practicing by himself for hours on end in the hot sun and by moonlight. Eventually he became a teaching pro, and at the advanced athletic age of 37, competed in his first British Open.
Hashim astounded the sports world by defeating the four-time defending champion to win the first of his seven British Open titles in 1950. Revolutionizing the sport with his do or die athleticism and stamina, Hashim soon traveled the world playing exhibitions and tournaments. His charisma, competitiveness and gracious manner won over legions of fans. And, as Pakistan had been newly formed as an independent nation in the partition from India in 1947, Hashim was the first Pakistani to receive worldwide recognition and create awareness of his fledgling country.
Former Denver Athletic Club president Hugh Tighe, who brought Hashim to Denver from Detroit‘s Uptown Athletic Club, recalled that club membership jumped from two dozen players to hundreds. “Everywhere I go people will say, ‘Wow, you’re a guy who plays with Hashim?’ It is like playing golf regularly with Jack Nicklaus.”
In bestowing the medal, Ambassador Haqqani recognized Hashim’s accomplishments as a squash champion, national hero and role model. Alluding to the remarkable accomplishment of winning seven British Open championships between the ages of 37 and 44, and then continuing to win championships for several more decades, the Ambassador offered Hashim’s championship success as an example for his country. “Just as Hashim Khan won championship titles into his 60s, so can Pakistan, in its 61st year of existence, look forward to [need to fact check the quote].
After acknowledgements and thanks, Hashim, who is in his mid-90s (his exact age is not known), ended with a trademark twinkle of the eye and good humor, using the same conclusion he had used nearly 70 years ago when asked to speak after winning one of his early titles. The great champion overcame the hurdle of speaking very little English, endearing himself to the crowd then and now, “Mr. Body, Mrs. Body, Everybody—thank you.”
Although he hasn’t competed in a professional tournament for many years, Hashim continued to play squash exhibitions and for fun up until last year when he fell on the court, fracturing his hip. Although doctors have advised him against playing any more squash, he still shows up at the DAC to watch a game or two of squash or to visit with club members in the Hashim Khan Trophy Room.