The devastated father of a talented sprinter who died suddenly over the weekend age 14 has broken his silence – as it’s revealed the teenage boy had aspirations to compete in the Olympics.
Zulqarnain Haider was a star athlete at Keilor Little Athletics Club in Melbourne’s north west and had represented his state at the national level.
Affectionately known as ‘Zulq’, the promising runner was a Victorian sprinting record holder and had won several gold medals at state championships.
But now, the Victorian athletics community is in mourning after learning the teenager passed away unexpectedly last weekend.
On Thursday, his grieving father Hussain spoke out to express gratitude to all of his loved ones for their support.
‘I am thankful to all my friends and relatives who supported me on the sudden death of my son and for the phone calls and messages in this difficult time,’ he wrote on Facebook.
Talented sprinter Zulqarnain Haider, 14, (pictured) tragically died last weekend
‘May Allah Almighty keep you all in his protection. Amen.’
Zulq, the second eldest of four children, moved to Australia ten years ago from his hometown of Parachinar, in northern Pakistan.
His family are heavily involved with the club, which also counts his siblings as members.
In recent years, as Zulq’s medal collection has continued to grow Down Under, he has been widely celebrated back in Pakistan. Parachinar residents regularly celebrate his his sporting prowess in supportive posts online.
The teenager’s father is also one of his biggest fans, frequently uploading photos and videos to social media highlight his son’s sporting successes.
The devastating news was announced earlier this week by Keilor Little Athletics, with the club remembering the ‘incredible’ athlete as ‘warm’, ‘determined’ and an inspiration to all.
Tributes and photos of Zulqarnain posing with medals and trophies have since flooded social media as the tight-knit community shared memories of the late athlete.
One woman revealed Zulq had dreams of someday representing his country at the Olympic Games.
‘He was such a humble competitor with so much talent,’ she said.
‘I got his autograph at state [championships] one year, because I told him he’d be in the Olympics one day.
‘He laughed and said, “I hope so!”.
Others recalled how Zulq’s athletic ability turned the arena silent as everyone stopped to watch him tear down the racetrack.
‘Zulq was one of those athletes that made you stop and watch,’ one person said.
‘He kept us busy at Keilor each week breaking records in multiple events. I have never seen an end of seasons records plaque with so many line entries!
‘An individual with a gift and a lot of talent taken way too soon.’
Another said: ‘I will never forget Zulq’s kindness and generosity towards the young kids at Keilor Little Athletics, he always had time for them.. and [I’ll never forget] the silence that would fall across the track whenever Zulq raced.
‘We were privileged to see him run and meet him in his short, but bright life.’
Keilor Little Athletics thanked other clubs from around Australia for their support and said they hoped the kinds words would bring comfort to Zulqarnain’s family
Zulq has been remembered as a ‘warm’ and ‘determined’ athlete, who was loaded with talent, but incredibly humble and kind to those around him
Local clubs in Melbourne also shared tributes to the ‘brilliant athlete’.
‘In the wake of the tragic news about the untimely passing of Keilor Little Athletics athlete, Zulqarnain Haider, Melton City Little Athletics stands united in shock and sadness,’ Melton City Little Athletics wrote.
‘Our thoughts and deepest condolences go out to Zulq’s family, friends, and the entire Keilor Little Athletics community.’
Coburg Little Athletics wrote: ‘Coburg would like to pass our sincere condolences to Zulq’s family and friends. He was a joy to watch and many of our athletes stopped what they were doing whenever he ran. A phenomenal talent taken too soon.’
In 2020, Keilor Little Athletics published a post gushing over Zulqarnain’s achievements.
‘Zulqarnain made the top 10 boys for the centre which isn’t a surprise considering he broke the Keilor records for U11 boys in the 100m, long jump and the 200m twice!’ the club wrote in September.
‘What a remarkable season Zulqarnain and congratulations on being last seasons U11 boys champion.’