• 29 Aug - 04 Sep, 2020
  • Alina Qamar
  • Interview

Years ago, you'd be hard-pressed to surf the Internet and find inspiring badass mountain biking women. Not that they weren't out there, they just weren't getting the recognition they deserved. Now, the landscape has changed and aspiring female mountain bikers and athletes have strong female role models to look up to and lots to learn from. One such adventure athlete and mountain biker is Samar Khan from Lower Dir, KPK. Khan is the first Pakistani to have biked on the Roof of Africa, Kilimanjaro and the first woman to ride on world’s third largest non-polar glacier, Biafo Karakoram Range. The list of achievements Khan has to her name is endless. She is a delegate at Global Sports Mentoring Programme by US department of state Washington DC and EspnW. She is also a Goodwill Ambassador of WWF Pakistan and was awarded and sponsored by Pakistan Army. Khan aims at normalising sports for women and youth in Pakistan and for that very purpose she has founded a sport club, Samar Camp, to set the trend of adventure sports in Pakistan. The fearless and badass athlete joins MAG for an inspiring interview and shares her experiences with mountain biking and much more. Read on:

Going back to where it all started, how did you venture into the world of cycling?

Basically, I ventured into the world of sports back in 2014 and initially it was just a recreational thing for me. Once I went to a paragliding course from Army School of Physical Training, Abbottabd. When I took my flights of paragliding it changed my entire perception towards myself and my life. Everything that I felt during that course, I wanted to feel it more. I wanted to be stronger than ever so after that, I started practicing different sports. I started cycling, hiking, mix martial arts, self defense because it was all a part of my strength journey. Then, next year I planned for my first ever cycling trip from Islamabad to Pak-China border.

What was the first place you took your bike and what was your experience?

My first road trip was from Islamabad to Khunjerab Pass, Pak-China border. I rode almost 1000 km back and forth and it was a 10 day trip and believe me, I just did a very casual training for that. I took it very easy, so as I was moving forward, it kept getting harder. I started getting cramps and sickness and I was surviving on medications. But despite all the adverse situations that I faced there, cycling on the Karakoram Highway is any cyclists biggest dream and my dream came true. I had my ups and downs but I also got to cherish some very beautiful moments which I can never forget, especially the sight of the border. The entire valley was snow covered and I was riding on Karakoram Highway and it was the most beautiful sight, so yeah, it was like a dream.

You are the first Pakistani to have biked on the ‘Roof of Africa’, Kilimanjaro and the first woman to ride on world’s 3rd largest non-polar glacier, Biafo in the Karakoram Mountain. Tell us about that experience.

I always wanted to set such an example that would not only highlight the northern regions like those areas which are very unsung or unknown but I also wanted to change the mindset of my community towards sports that no sport is indecent for females. Sports is instead empowering . I wanted to inspire females plus I wanted to change the mindset of the youth that adventure sports can be done in Pakistan and can be done by Pakistani women too. Which took me to my next expedition and I again biked from Islamambad to Shigar and I entered the biggest mountain across Skardu. It was like living two weeks of your life in a refrigerator because I was on the world’s third largest non-polar glacier. When I was riding over there I met landsliding, a lot of challenges but when I came out I became very relaxed and satisfied because I was the only one who biked on the world’s third largest non-polar glacier and the story went viral. I got a lot of appreciation and respect, both nationally and internationally. And Kilimanjaro was my objective to represent Pakistan beyond borders and I’m very thankful to ISPR Pakistan Army who sponsored me for that. Kilimanjaro was a very difficult experience because unlike Pakistan, East Africa has no mountain ranges. There is only a free standing single mountain which used to be a volcano few years back, so it was a very challenging yet beautiful experience. I biked through a tropical forest, I biked in the night and day through moorland, Alpine Desert and a snow capped peak, so it was a very diverse, a very beautiful experience. I even got to learn a few words from their language. But representing Pakistan among all other groups was the most memorable moment and a very proud one too.

Name three essential items you take on tour (bike not included)...

Safety gear is the top priority in necessary items because protecting your body against injuries is very important. The second very important thing for an athlete or any person around a mountain is to capture whatever they are going through, all the extreme situations, with sports cameras or GoPro. So it’s really important to have backup batteries too. The third very important thing is power backup and navigation source.

Where do you stand with respect to diet?

Diet always makes 80 per cent of your productivity and workout counts for 20 per cent so diet is everything. Ever since I realised that I have researched a lot, I have been my own nutritionist, I did my body test that what are the things I need to take and what are the areas I need to balance through my diet. I avoid all of the packed foods, frozen items, processed products, and frizzy drinks. I don’t eat anything from junk food to bakery stuff. I drink a lot of water. 12 to 14 glasses of water is a must to keep my muscles hydrated and flexible and I take homemade food two or three times a day depending on my training and a lot of protein and few healthy carbs. Nut and dates are the healthy snacks I carry everywhere during my expeditions. Dates, almonds and dry apricots are great to avoid height sickness.

What kind of training and exercise is necessary to become a strong cyclist? And what does your training regimen look like throughout the year?

I do my own training because we don’t have professional coaches and trainers for professional cycling training. I do gym every day or five to six days a week then there are a couple of hikes in one week and also a few rides. So, riding and hiking twice a week and gym every day for two to three hours. Mostly I target my core. I do a lot of core strength exercises for my legs and upper body. I basically focus on every part of my body because every muscle complements each other.

How do you choose where to go?

I choose the areas depending on the challenge level, depending on what my strengths or abilities are so I can improve myself through that expedition and maximise the impact of my work through that destination. My target expeditions mostly revolve around the biggest adventure marks, both nationally and internationally.

What's the hardest bit of cycling you've had to do and why?

Every expedition had its own challenges and hardships but the toughest was the cycling attempt on the Roof of Africa. I was really coping with first few stretches but the last stretch when you have to leave to climb at midnight was really difficult. At 12 am you start climbing that too with a bike on a very narrow track where there is a mountain on one side and there is nothing on the other side and one small mistake can cost your life. So pushing myself on Kilimanjaro with my bike on the last stretch from midnight to 6 am was the toughest expedition. It was a real deal.

Other than your hard work and devotion, who do you attribute your success to?

I think my resilience and stubbornness is my biggest strength. I take negativity as a fuel to spark my motivation and my goal. Whatever I receive, good or bad, I convert and transform that towards my productivity and that’s my biggest strength.

In most societies, ‘sports’ invariably becomes synonymous with ‘male’ and women’s sports in Pakistan have a low profile compared to men’s sports. What can we do about this?

Sports, whether in Pakistan or other Asian countries, is unfortunately a male dominated field. It’s a global issue, it’s not only restricted to Pakistan. We are no doubt very far behind from other countries in sports and especially for females it is like fighting on a battle ground. There are a lot of limitations for females in sports. What we have to do is make things easier for women. First comes the mindset. Sports for females should be normalised. The second important thing is to empower women through continuous sponsors, through equal media projection. Her achievements must be acknowledged and she should be supported and motivated. There should also be a lot of sports facilities like running tracks, jogging courts, swimming pools and it shouldn’t be made male dominated.