Samar is a Pakistani cyclist and a record-holding athlete to ride cycle on 4500 meters Biafo Glacier in Gilgit-Baltistan. She is also the first Pakistani woman to ride her cycle on roof of Africa, Mount Kilimanjaro. We found her very inspirational towards uplifting other women and girls by proving her mettle in adventure sports and making Pakistan proud.
Here’s a dialogue with Samar in which she revealed about her struggles, challenges and aims. Read on…
ChalkTalk: When and how did you discover your passion of cycling?
Samar: I discovered my passion for adventure sports basically. It happened when I was in my university. During the summer break, I was struggling with my personal life in different areas and I wanted to have a break. All of a sudden I saw an adventure course offered by Pakistan army in army school of physical training Abbottabad. I thought to take it as a break.
It was a one week course and I had to live in their base camp. So I talked to my mother and risked it. It was the first time I was traveling alone from Rawalpindi to Abbottabad. There I stayed and got trained by the army professionals and I met a lot of other athletes. After taking few flights of para-gliding and other physical training sessions, I felt myself very strong, confident and happy. I wanted to have that move basically. Then what I did was, I started excelling in sports. I did mountaineering, trekking and started learning martial arts, but eventually ended up at cycling.
I had few small road tours and gained experience as how to manage cycling and how easy it is to explore Pakistan from one place to another on your bike. I met a lot of wonderful people on my way so that’s how I started it professionally.
ChalkTalk: What is your favorite expedition so far?
Samar: It is my recent expedition of cycling attempt on the roof of Africa. It was totally a new experience in a completely new climate, new place, different physical conditions in another corner of the country, so I learned and experienced a lot of things over there. The climate there was so diverse. I biked through tropical forests, alpine deserts, moorlands and snow-covered peaks. So the experience was quite vast and I totally loved it.
It happened in December 2017 and also got me international recognition that someone from Pakistan came and biked through Africa. So it was a very proud and patriotic moment for me to be able to represent my country on international grounds. So that expedition is really close to my heart.
ChalkTalk: Any struggles you faced being a woman in pursuing your dreams?
Samar: Definitely, in Pakistan whenever a girl stands for her career and specially if she chooses a public or an outdoor field then she has to overcome that social barrier initially. The first challenge she has to face is that what will people think about me and my family specially the close relatives. I belong from a Pushtoon community and it had never happened before that a girl belonging to lower Dir is riding on the roads alone and traveling here and there for months.
When I had to do my first trip from Islamabad to Pak-China border, it took me three to four months to discuss it with my mom, take her into confidence and on board, because I couldn’t do anything against her. Plus initially, I had to block my entire family from social media so that they don’t show any resistance or think negative. We have very strict and conservative values.
When I started, I didn’t even have a proper gear. I used to ride in my scarf and the normal kurtis girls usually wear. Gradually I started buying stuff because there were a lot of financial challenges as well. Every sports needs a financial backup. With the passage of time and as I started making my name and profile, people started trusting me and now my mom is very proud of me that I can manage any challenge and I can do other positive things while carrying on with sports while following my values as well.
ChalkTalk: Who is your life inspiration?
Samar: When I started sports, there wasn’t a person who inspired me. I got my inspiration from glaciers of Pakistan. When I was there on my expeditions and explored the area, I got inspired from the majestic and fascinating mountains of Pakistan. It was then when I realized that how blessed we are, and how many things there are to do in Pakistan. Then I started planning and got determined that I have to do outdoor sports only and highlight those beautiful areas of our country.
However, my source of courage is my mom. She was there to push me and encourage me. She understood my future goals when nobody else understood it.
ChalkTalk: Holding a masters degree in physics yourself, how important is education for women?
Samar: Education for women is very important. Even If I can’t pursue my career in physics, the university life, the school life, the different experiences, and the events that I attended during my university life, all of them have enlightened me about what to choose and what not to choose. Education gave me the strength, the confidence and made me mentally independent, now I can choose for myself. All my life, I had been following people, but once you are educated, you realize that it’s your life and you have to set your own terms and rules.
Education is necessary for a woman, because she has to teach and guide the next generation as well. Women make more than 50% of our population so how can the country progress when women won’t be educated. It needs an entire team to prosper.
ChalkTalk: Are there any proper platforms in Pakistan for girls interested in cycling?
Samar: There are no proper platforms for cycling and any other sports except cricket in Pakistan, unfortunately. There is no financial support, academies, clubs, or coaching for any sports besides cricket. When I started cycling and even now, people send me queries that they can’t find affordable cycles, helmets, or gloves or any other equipment essential for cycling. There are few shops in big cities like Karachi, Lahore, and Islamabad having international sports brands where one cycle costs one or two lac rupees. People can’t easily afford it. I couldn’t afford it either. I purchased my first cycle that was second-handed and costed me 25,000-30,000 Rupees. All other items I bought from Sunday market.
Every athlete is making self-efforts in Pakistan. Our media is not projecting us. Private and corporate sectors don’t own or sponsor our athletes either. It’s the responsibility of corporate sectors, government, and media to own the people who are making efforts to make Pakistan proud.
ChalkTalk: Women are generally thought to be the weaker sex. What is the perception of women in sports?
Samar: When I was entering glaciers with my bike, it was very hard to find a team. Whoever I approached, they used to laugh at me. That I am a girl hailing from Pakistan. Foreigners are strong whereas how will I do it. Secondly they used to think that who takes a cycle on mountains. They didn’t trust me. Finally when I got my team and entered the glaciers and made a record by coming out successfully within the allotted time, they got really amazed. Step by step I proved it that not only boys, but our girls can take risks too and are strong.
Women of Pakistan are the strongest women I have ever seen because of the hardships, difficulties and resilience we go through. We have social barriers. We have financial challenges. We have responsibilities of managing family life, but still you will see women rising everywhere now a days and have proven themselves as strongest women of Pakistan. Samina Baig, Noreena in squash, Anita Karim to name a few. All we need is to support them. Our women are capable to do everything.
ChalkTalk: What are your future plans?
Samar: I was recently selected by US department of states for global sports mentoring program. With their teaching and mentorship I launched my own sports initiative. It is called ‘Samar Camp”. I have started training youth specially women in outdoor adventure sports. My aim is to introduce all categories of adventure sports in Pakistan so that we can prepare professional athletes who can reach Olympics and other international sports. We have to launch those platforms that we currently don’t have as soon as possible. That’s why I am working on outdoor sports.
ChalkTalk: Any message you would like to give for Pakistani women on account of women’s day?
Samar: I want to address the women of entire world and say that please don’t wait for miracles to happen and rescue you. It’s time to believe in yourself, discover your strength and potential and stand for your rights. Whatever resonates with your heart, whatever you think you can work on for your name, for your family and for your country, you should stand up for that and live the life on your own terms and inspire other people at the same time. We have a lot of issues to solve around education, health and sports. It’s the time that our women should stand, participate and solve those issues and prove themselves.
We had a heartfelt conversation with Samar and wish her the very best for her future endeavors so that she continues to make our country proud.