Exclusive interview for Dafa News: From the prodigy teenager to the cycling sensation, Akbar Khan has given a facelift to the cycling in Kashmir
By Tanveer Rashid Magrey & Tahir Ibn Manzoor
In the wee hours of the summer season in Kashmir, a bevvy of youth is spotted on the Narbal- Tangmarg stretch of Srinagar – Gulmarg highway. Lycra-clad and heads strapped with protective helmets, this group of young “cycling professionals” pedal almost 80 km daily as part of their “routine practice”.
A sturdy youth in his mid-twenties is one among this lot who sweat it out on the black tarmac in summers. He often enjoys the adrenaline-fuelled races to keep himself going while tasting success since he was quite young. He is none other than—Mohammad Akbar Khan, an acclaimed cyclist, who has many feathers to his hat. Cut above the rest, this young man has had a considerable impact on the cycling landscape of Kashmir.
Coming from a dusky hamlet, Chak-e-Kawoosa nestled on either side of Narbal–Gulmarg highway, Akbar was fond of cycling early on in his life, courtesy to his elder brother, Feroz Khan.
“My interest in cycling started when my elder brother, who now is a sports teacher at Srinagar’s Burn Hall School, bagged the gold medal in an inter-college race with a local bicycle,” Akbar told Dafa News exclusively.
As Akbar kept on hitting the roads to hone his skills, it started paying off when he pulled off three consecutive gold medals at the college level.
“As a student, I represented Amar Singh college for three consecutive years in inter-college races and clinch three gold medals,” Akbar said.
Akbar’s heroics at Amar Singh College paved way for him to get admission for B.Ed at Government College of Physical Education Ganderbal under the Sports Category. The next pit- stop in his academic expedition was Gurunanak Dev University where he participated in two All India inter-cycling championships and bagged two gold medals and bagged free admission for M.P.Ed.
To know the nuances of the game at a much broader canvas through academics, Akbar went a step ahead in 2018 when he enrolled himself in Shri Venkateshwara University, Uttar Pradesh for PhD Program with the topic – “Structure of a cyclist and the cycling in India”.
“As far as my B.P.Ed and M.P.Ed degrees are concerned, they played a very fruitful part of my sports journey. As a professional sportsperson, you are supposed to know the intricacies of the game and B.P.Ed and M.P.Ed plays a very important role in that way,” Akbar quipped.
No sooner Akbar’s exploits hogged headlines, many sponsors made a beeline towards the quaint village—to adopt the proud son of the soil.
“Tramboo food and industries, Pure Max, Noora Hospital, TCI MAX and former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah is amongst them who rallied behind me to encourage me to pedal new heights. Without their support, these achievements were not possible,” he asserted.
Thus far, Akbar has played five nationals championships in which he grabbed two golds. In 2011, he participated in national games of India as well. Moreover, Akbar was a member of the Indian cycling team for one year where he learnt the niceties of the game.
“It was a learning curve for me. I learned how to maintain myself fit in this sport which seeks physical stamina and mental toughness,” Akhbar maintained.
Akbar got his eureka moment in 2014 when he clinched gold for the erstwhile state of J&K in National Road Cycling event. It brought about a paradigm shift in the cycling landscape of state precisely in the Magam – a town in central Kashmir’s Budgam district. There is an augment in the footfall of cycling aficionados in his hometown, Magam. So much so, that it earned the moniker of “The cycling capital of Kashmir”.
“This [gold medal] medal gave the much-need boost to the local youth and many started looking at this sport now seriously,” Akbar stated.
As a word in the town spread about Akbar’s exploits in the pedalling race, Omar Abdullah chipped in to fete the young cyclist. In 2016, Omar donated a professional Merida Reacto 5000 bicycle worth INR 2.8 lakh.
Such was the impact of his accomplishment in this sport that many youths expressed interest into this “still an alien sport of the state”. Rather, they had rapt attention.
Akbar makes no bones about the rigours a sportsperson goes through to hit the zenith.
“You have to give more than 6 hours daily to cycling, exercising and other allied activities to keep the body in sync with the demands of the sport,” says young Akbar at his home few furloughs from the highway.
When asked whether growing coverage of cricket and football affects the cyclist, pat came to the reply, “I don’t care two hoots about it as Cycling Federation of India keeps on organising tournaments. Recently, Hoshiyar championship held in which players from every corner of the country participated and I achieved 4th position and received INR 40,000.”
The face of Kashmir in cycling represented India in the Track Asia Cup as well in 2015. Lending credence to his accomplishments in cycling. He was nominated for a state award in 2016. Akbar aims at making to the national camp again for which he has his task cut out: strenuous training for six hours.
Akbar calls the SRO-349 of State Sports Council an oasis for sports professionals. SRO guarantees a government job if a player bags gold in Olympic sport namely athletics, cycling, volleyball and swimming. It incorporates those as well who have played an international championship.
As Akbar gives a fleeting look to the prevailing landscape of cycling in the world, names of two international cyclists belt out.
“This is a very famous sport in Europe. It is played in 187 countries. Players like Mark Simon Cavendish and Peter Sagan, whom I personally root for and idolise, have come out from this sport,” he says while gazing at few of his pictures decked up in the glass cabinet.
From the prodigy teenager to the cycling sensation who has given a facelift to the cycling in Kashmir, Akbar has had given a coveted décor to his CV.
And in the same breath, without an iota of doubt, Akbar is synonymous of cycling in Kashmir.