Samar Khan – Paving the way for women adventurers
“Empowering the youth is very important for the development of any country and providing positive activities can be a good step to save them from any negative approach.”
Adventure sports, especially in Pakistan, doesn’t bring to mind a women athlete. However, Samar Khan, a dedicated adventure athlete wants to change that. Samar is a sports enthusiast, participating and ticking off one adventure sport after another. She ticked off cycling, mountaineering and martial arts from the list and continues to set higher and more challenging adventure goals. Her journey started from a paragliding course she took at the Army School of Physical Training (ASPT, Kakul).
Even though she has a Masters in Physics she continued pursuing and participating in adventure sports, which was a challenge onto itself because of the lack of resources or facilities when it comes to training and preparation. This only made Samar’s resolve stronger, she learned and groomed herself as an adventure athlete with the dream to inspire others and create a platform for adventure sports for other athletes especially girls. Samar rightfully points out that if little care and attention is given to maintaining adventurous terrains in Pakistan it would give Pakistan’s tourism industry.
“Despite being the ideal adventure destination, Pakistan lacks adventure activities that would attract foreign tourists and people from sports backgrounds.”
Sports proved to be a “source of transformation” for Samar helping her become a super confident and determined young women from the shy and sensitive girl she once was.
“Sports has not only strengthened my body but also my mind to make important decisions, to uplift other people and to inspire them to take challenged in their respective fields.”
Initially, finances and a lack of support from the state or any other institution were quite an obstacle for Samar. It is unfortunate that when it comes women in sports, accolades, sponsorship or rightful media attention aren’t easy to come by and can be a major set-back for someone trying to break records on their own dime. Samar cycled from Islamabad to Khunjerab, but still couldn’t convince organizations or brands to sponsor her next adventure goal. So, in order to complete her journey she had to use her own savings and take loans from her friends. Samar also got severely injured due to land sliding and road accidents but being the fighter that she is, she didn’t give up.
“These things don’t stop you when you have bigger goals and a burning passion inside.”
Samar’s biggest breakthrough was cycling on the world’s largest glacial system, Biafo in the Karakoram ranges, by riding from Islamabad to Skardu (Shiger). It was after this expedition that people started to take note and Samar made a name for herself nationally. This nationwide recognition also paved the way for Samar to represent Pakistan globally leading to Samar reaching Kilimanjaro (Tanzania) to cycle on the ‘roof of Africa’ in December 2017 with the support of the Pakistan Army.
Samar’s aim with her sports records is to change the mindset of her community as well as the stereotype that adventure sports isn’t for girls. When she travels alone, bravely climbs and cycles in the wilderness, she hopes that young girls in her community too will gain motivation and courage to pave their own paths and choose their own challenges with confidence.
Samar is also a motivational speaker, going around to different institutions talking about the challenges she faces in her life as an adventure athlete and how she combats the issues that come her way. She hopes that her words and the sharing of her journey will help young people find inspiration and get clarity about their goals and ambitions in life.
“I feel lucky to provide the youth with the insights and make them realize their potential and strength. And how they can come up with innovative ways to improve their life quality.”
Samar acknowledges that her being a woman athlete brings with it its unique challenges and the attention she has received has also included criticism about her being a women out and about participating in adventure sports in sometime wild terrains, but she takes it all in stride.
“Cycling on roads and mountains is very new, so social resistance is there some times. But I feel myself quite safe on the roads while travelling and in fact I am helped many times by the local people.”
However, Samar is fuelled by the positive feedback she has received about her expeditions both nationally and internationally, which has also as a result shed light on Pakistan’s natural beauty, our hospitality and our rich culture. Another profound impact of her work has been with regards to how her story has resonated with young girls across the country. She says that she “receives hundreds of messages from different parts of Pakistan in which [girls] share how my story has fuelled their passion and guided them in their fields.”
Samar’s work as a Pakistani adventure athlete also helps break the stereotype that Pakistani women are passive members of society and that Pakistan is an unsafe country hoping that her records and recognition will eventually help boost Pakistan’s tourism industry. She is also trying to create awareness about the importance of being active and paying attention to fitness, which she says is lacking in Pakistani society. In order to bring attention to physical fitness and the importance of active lifestyles Samar conducts weekend hiking or cycling events for both men and women, inspiring them to get off their laptops and spend time outdoors playing sports. Efforts like these are bound to reap rewards in the form of a more positive and healthier society and we applaud Samar for starting and committing to this journey in adventure sports.
Interview by Nadia Sarwar | Written by Sameen Mohsin