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Girl from Paradise steers kayaking hope

india Updated: Mar 19, 2008 02:06 IST
Ajai Masand

She braved social censure, terror threats and freezing temperatures to chase what people told her was an impossible dream. Today, she is the country’s top coach in her discipline, teaching her wards the power of dreams.

Meet Bilques Mir from Srinagar, head coach of India’s national women’s kayaking and canoeing team. All of 20 years old, Bilques is one of a handful of sportspersons who are changing the face of terrorism-ravaged Kashmir.

The daughter of a forest ranger, Bilques fell in love with kayaking when she was 13. At a time when virtually no one dared to venture close to the Youth Service Sports Club on the Dal Lake, she went out alone on the water — throwing to the winds the opinion of scornful neighbours and the fear of terrorists.

“Often, I would be alone in a kayak, breaking the ice with my oars,” says the winner of over 25 medals at multiple levels. “People gossiped, criticized my parents for encouraging me. Sometimes I would capsize in the bone-chilling water with no one around. But I kept at it. My parents stood by me all through,” she says.

Eventually success came. Bilques passed the Sports Authority of India-certified coaches training course from Roorkee, and was appointed by Kayaking and Canoeing Federation of India as their national junior coach. It was a moment of history: Jammu and Kashmir had produced its first-ever woman national coach.

On her return from the Junior World Championship in Korea, Bilques was made head coach of the senior team, which is now in Bhopal ahead of the pre-Olympic qualifiers in Komatsu, Japan.

“I want to be a top international coach. I am saving up to train in Hungary,” she says. “I want Kashmiri girls to do well. We have natural talent… hundreds ply shikaras on the Dal...”