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Feature: Pedalling to fulfill dreams of glory Women’s Cycling Championship in Karachi,

Low salaries, difficult conditions and almost no exposure makes it extremely difficult for female cyclists in Pakistan to demonstrate their talent. But there are some gifted young women who are eager to make a mark on the big stage.
Ayesha Jawaid, 20, who recently won the title of the inaugural 2014 Sindh Women’s Cycling Championship in Karachi, did not realise cycling is a sport until she was selected from the open trials held at her college.
“I didn’t even know it was a sport,” said Ayesha. “I used to enjoy riding when I was a child, but when I participated in the national event and won a bronze medal, I realised the full potential of my talent.
“Training for hours with the help of the Sindh Cycling Association has increased my confidence.”
Another young cyclist, Sana Yaqoob, who emerged victorious in the amateurs’ category, has high ambitions for the future.
“I have always enjoyed riding in alleys, but coming out to a place like this is encouraging for me,” she said. “I am looking forward to train in order to put Pakistan on the professional cycling map.”
At the championship race, a rather swift start was hindered by strong wind towards the end of the race. Some of the contestants even fell off their bicycles, but the level of ambition remained steady throughout the race.
Abid Ali, who invested in the championship to make it successful, believes that women in Pakistan need encouragement more than anything.
“I have started from a district level and will continue to support women’s cycling, with the help of the Pakistan Adventure Cycling Association. I hope to one day make it a recognised sport in the country,” he said.
Raheela Bano, who has won a silver and a bronze in international events, is keen to promote cycling as a profession for women in Pakistan.
“I used to ride a mountain bike for fun, but after cycling in a race at the Lahore Velodrome for the first time, I decided to take it up as a profession,” said Raheela.
“It was difficult to manage both my studies and training in the beginning, but I learned how to maintain balance between the two.
“Wapda hired me in 2001 to race for their department, which provided some flexibility, but my activities became so time-constrained that even a traffic holdup was detrimental to my training,” she said, who revealed that being a professional cyclist often requires more than 20 hours of training a week.
In 2002, she participated in her first national championship and won the gold after she went on to dominate the sport for the next 10 years till 2012. An injury forced her to abandon the 2013 race, but she is optimistic of a winning return this year.
Raheela believes the new generation has to come forward and propel Pakistan to the top in cycling. She plans to launch a proper training school especially for women, in order to help them realise their potential.
For her, the decision to race despite the obstacles of income and training eventually comes down to the love of the sport.
“There are times when I stop and ask myself, was it worth it? But when I look at the memories, friendships and the experiences I have been able to have because of cycling, it becomes crystal clear as to why I did it,” she concluded.
Female riders are emerging from the grassroot level and people like Abid and Raheela are giving their full support to them. Change seems inevitable as there may be fewer facilities as compared to other countries, but the love for the sport keeps women’s cycling alive in Pakistan.

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