Paddling Beauty

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Kashmir valley’s top cyclist, Umer Nabi, who has already won many laurels for the state at regional, national and international level is hoping to put up a good show in the upcoming season, Bilal Handoo reports.

In December last year, when international cyclists were paddling on the roads of Srinagar in Tour de India event, it was Kashmiri cyclist, Umer Nabi, who proved his mettle and came out as one of the leading cyclists till fourth round when a fellow participant knocked him down and he was out of the race.

For Umer, the sudden exit from the event was heart-breaking. Since 2005, when he first decided to paddle, he was toiling hard to create an impact. “My preparation was just perfect for the event. But that unfortunate accident dashed all my hopes,” says the 23-years-old international cyclist. The accident not only shattered his long cherished dream to win gold on his home turf but also caused a severe damage to his racing cycle which has cost him around Rs 3 lakh.

To repair the cycle was too much for Umer, who belongs to a family of modest income. “After that loss, I was half-broken with no help pouring from any quarter. Later, a local sponsor came to my rescue by pocketing all the losses,” he told Kashmir Life.

Umer hails from Burzhama of Srinagar’s Hazratbal area. He started his sporting career with a marathon run. Soon a realization struck him when he was studying in Class 9. “I realized then that a long-run event has a bleak future in the state as there are hardly any takers of this sport. This feeling made me to change my sporting interest,” he says. Umer then devoted himself to cycling.

Umer was a novice to cycle-racing and he started his career by participating in a local race. Eight years later, he is rubbing shoulders with best cyclists in the world. Having excelled in local clubs, Umer subsequently got noticed at the national level. Till today, this budding cyclist has participated in 63 cycling events at regional, national and international levels.

“I participated in first major cycling race on Oct 29, 2006 in Chinar Cycle Race organized by 28 Rashtriya Rifles by borrowing a cycle from a friend. I secured 3rd place. In the same year, I participated in three races that included 10,000 m Youth & Service Athletic event which I won and came third in Amateur Cycling Association cycle race,” says Umer.

But the longest race he paddled that year was the 6th Tour de Kashmir race from Srinagar to Pahalgam where he secured 7th place which earned him a chance to race at the national level. “On Nov 5, 2006 I participated in 12th National Road cycling championship in Jabalpur where I bagged 4th place. I had practiced a lot but lack of quality racing cycle marred my chances to be in top three,” says Umer.

“That event was an ordinary race. Other cyclists were using bicycles that cost lakhs. These cycles have racing wheels that enhance the speed of a cyclist. I lacked it. Yet I gave them a stiff competition,” he says. But his each achievement was hardly gratifying for his father and relatives. “They wanted me to concentrate on my studies. Only my mother supported my cycling ambitions right from the beginning,” he says.

Umer, a commerce graduate, did his Bachelors in Physical Education from Guru Nanak Dev University and is now seeking admission in Kashmir University for pursuing Masters in Physical Education. “I never let my education suffer because of cycling ambitions. Rather my quest for academics got better,” he says.

But as soon as his achievements created buzz, even his father started appreciating his passion. “My best was yet to come. In 2007, I participated in seven cycling events and won most of them. A year after on Jan 27, 2008, I also participated in mountain biking championship at Pondicherry,” he said.

The year 2009 turned out to be his most prolific year. “I participated in 15 events including Kashmir Cycling Challenge and Mountain Biking Championship,” he says. Umer aspires to be a top cyclist but the government apathy, he says, towards cycling as a sport and lack of quality coaching is creating a big in achieving his ambitions.

Since 2010, Umer has participated in 30 cycling events that include two international and seven national events, besides many at regional level. His sad exit from last year’s international cycling event in Kashmir is still playing at the back of his mind. “If only that accident had not knocked me out, the story would have been different today.”

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