I first met Coach Sediq last year at a petrol station on the north end of Kabul – I was preparing to go on a road ride with the men’s national cycling team. I was speaking with team member, Ashraf Ghani, who I had met at a local cafe and invited me to ride. Coach Sediq pulled up unexpectedly with his assistant, Mariam, en route to Mazar-i-Sharif to visit some women cyclists. We talked about the mens and women’s national teams, my surprise and excitement about meeting them and my desire to help, and what he saw as the future for the National Cycling teams of Afghanistan.
Two days ago I flew back to Kabul and headed straight from the airport directly to the offices of the cycling federation with 6 brand new bikes and over 350 pounds of cycling clothing that had been donated by individuals, bike shops, and bike companies. With me… a photographer, a writer, a film crew, and a overqualified ‘bike mechanic’.
He was all smiles when I stepped off the mini bus and he recognized my face, pleased I had returned to lend support. After explaining what I hoped Mountain2Mountain could do to help grow and develop the cycling teams, I introduced the film crew, Let Media’s Sarah Menzies and Whitney Clapper Connor – who were with me to create a documentary about the women’s cycling team, Afghan Cycles. When asked if he would support the project and allow us access to himself and his team, he responded – “Bale, bale bale”. “Yes, yes yes. I thank you for your interest and support and we will support this project and your efforts 1000%.”
The next day we dropped off the gear for the mens and women’s team back at the federation offices and sat with the bare bones staff to discuss our involvement beyond this gear drive and film. What did the federation need to improve? What could Mountain2Mountain do to help the teams grow and develop? After a couple of hours, we drove to Coach Sediq’s home to interview him, and have lunch. Sitting in his living room, we talked further surrounded by medals and awards from various races outside of Afghanistan.
Coach Sediq helped form the men’s national cycling team 33 years ago. An avid and well known cyclist, he not only worked to introduce the sport to more men but also started a women’s team. Today there are 10 women on the national team, at first glance it resembles something more akin to a development team, training only twice a week, on a variety of old, heavy bikes, and flat pedals. Many of these girls have only been riding a couple of years and their handling skills needs as much development as their endurance and strength. But they are the national team, and as such have competed in Pakistan and India, even winning medals to bring home.
Now there are three women’s teams in Afghanistan and a desire to create a fourth in the home province of one of the national team members. They are very keen to expand the sport and teach more girls to ride and Coach Sediq, is giving all his time to the development of the girls team. His interactions with the girls and their families is like that of a favorite uncle. He insists that anytime a girl wants to join the team, he meets with her family to get their consent. He taught his own daughter to ride a bike and she competed at quite a high level, becoming a champion. His wife didn’t approve of the cycling, and asked that she stop now that she is in her last years of school to focus on her studies. It illustrates that even women often don’t approve in Afghanistan today.
Mountain2Mountain has pledged is longterm support to help the teams with equipment, gear, and partnerships so that they can develop their team, expand their program, and improve their coaching. We are at the start of an incredible journey.
photo credit: Claudia Lopez