By Atiya Riffat
17-year-old Aqila Saleem became the only female cyclist from Gilgit Baltistan (GB) who rode her cycle alongside national and international cyclists in the recently concluded Serena International Tour de Khunjerab Road Cycle Race.
Speaking to APP, Aqila expressed optimism of soon being able to represent the national cycling team if provided with opportunities.
The race was held in three different stages – first from Gilgit to Rakaposhi View Point (66-kilometer), then from Rakaposhi View Point to Sost (110-kilometers) and finally, from Sost to Khunjerab Pass (84-kilometers).
Although there was a wide margin of the time difference in completing the race; her counterparts completed their first journey of 66km in 2 hours and 11-minutes, while Aqila paddled the distance in 5 hours and 18 minutes 23 sec.
“I’m feeling proud of being the only female from Gilgit-Baltistan, that participated in the historical road race that started from 400 feet high above sea level and culminated to a record 15500 feet at Khunjrab Pass near Pakistan-China border,” a proud Aqila said.
“I’m a cyclist and riding on a cycle since my childhood. My first demand to my loving father Saleem, a local hotelier, to buy a cycle and since then I explored many places on my two-wheelar,” she said, adding, “my first love is cycling and I want to be an international cyclist by representing Pakistan.”
Aqila added, while giving a smiling response. “The national and international cyclists use different type of bicycle, with new technology, different in sizes according to body structure, front and back wheels brakes, the addition of chains and cranks and pedals, gear for downhill and uphill and above all good control, so it is difficult for me to compete side-by-side as an amateur cyclist, Aqila remarked”.
“Our livelihood are more on tourism so holding of the Serena International Tour de Khunjrab Road Cycle Race is a good initiative in motivating people to adopt cycling for good health, free from pollutions, explore new venues and attract local and international tourists to visit this scenic places,” she further added. “I have been promised by Secretary PCF to be invited to the national camp very soon and from now onward I started preparation so that I could show my talent in an appropriate manner,” Aqila said.
She also thanked Secretary Sports and Culture Waqar Ali Khan, Chief Commissioner G-B Muhammad Usman Khan, Chief Secretary G-B Babar Hayat Tarar, Secretary Pakistan Cycling Federation Syed Azhar Ali Shah and above all Chief Minister G-B Hafiz Hafeez Ur Rehman for extending all out support in holding the Serena International Tour de Khujrab Road Cycle by highlighting the peace and stability of G-B to the rest of the world. She said “My mom and my father were my loving mentors who always extended support to me in my cycling,”