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Wednesday Jul 15 2020

Pakistani who cycled to top of Kilimanjaro wants govt to support adventure sports

Professional cyclist Samar Khan. — Photo by author

KARACHI: Riding a bicycle across mighty mountains, steep glaciers and dangerous trails is no easy feat and makes for a very special achievement.

Twenty-nine-year-old Samar Khan is one such special athlete.

She became the first Pakistani to bicycle up to the roof of Africa's Mount Kilimanjaro. She is also the first one to ride a bike on the third-largest non-polar glacier, Biafo, in the Karakoram Range.

Coming from a Pashtun family, to be able to achieve all this had meant facing even more challenges.

“Things are never easy for a woman to come from a Pashtun family and be in a sport which is very different from the usual sport. It was difficult to convince my mother of how this sport can help me make our country proud and how the sport can help me,” she said.

“Usually, you don’t see athletes other than cricketers earning much in Pakistan. So, it was a big challenge. I saved money to start my expeditions and I remained under debt. I had to work hard to prove myself,” Samar said, while talking about her initial days of mountain biking.

Khan said that her decision to opt for adventure or action sports was to tell the world that Pakistani women are no different than women from other countries.

The 29-year-old, who has a degree in Physics, said that she has witnessed firsthand a lot of mountain biking talent, especially in Pakistani women, and it was important to support them as it will not only empower them but it will also help them become more confident.

Professional cyclist Samar Khan. — Photo by author

“Sports is important for empowering women,” she said.

“I chose adventure sports because whenever we talk about these sports, we only hear about foreign athletes. We have such a diverse geography, from the deep sea to high altitude rivers. These are the places where adventure sports can be promoted, yet we don't have one athlete we can name [who represents Pakistan]. I wanted to bring a change, to do something big in non-conventional sports,” Khan said.

Recalling her expedition to the Biafo glacier, Khan said that the expedition was a particularly challenging one, and people used to laugh at her when she was planning it, but she remained firm.

“After trekking for four days, I spotted a flat patch and attempted cycling there and it was very difficult to cycle on a glacier. It was an expedition of two-three weeks. It taught me how to face a difficult situation. I am the first woman who did cycling on the world's third-biggest glacier,” she proudly recalled.

“Kilimanjaro, in 2017, was a life-changing expedition; the ISPR supported me in it," she said, while moving on to discuss more recent expeditions. She said that the task was "very different and difficult".

"It was very diverse; you face different terrains there from tropical forests to an alpine desert, rocky fields, and then you enter a snowy steep. It was challenging but it made me very courageous and fueled my energy. I was the only Pakistani to reach there and from the top, I returned on cycle. It was a great honour,” the athlete said.

According to Khan, after expeditions to Biafo and Kilimanjaro people started accepting her as an athlete. Yet, it is a continuous struggle for her.

“We have a long way to go,” she said, when asked if adventure sports can be nationalised.

“The government must come forward and work with those who are experienced in this sport to promote it at the national level. We need a constant financial force to keep this sport going. This is an expensive sport and you need proper financial support to be successful in such games. Media’s support is also important,” she added.

Professional cyclist Samar Khan. — Photo by author

Samar is also working to promote action and adventure sports under her own initiative named “Samar Camp” which provides training for sports like snowboarding, mountain biking, and rock climbing.

Speaking of mountain biking, she said: “I want this sport to be nourished in Pakistan. I want to formally launch this sport, so people can bring laurels to the country,” Samar said.

For now, she has set sights on her next target, which is to represent Pakistan internationally in mountain biking competitions other than record attempts.

But for that, she needs continuous support.