Bilquees Mir had to face a lot of criticism when she decided to choose water sports as her career option more than two-decades ago. The decision was a stark contrast to her contemporaries. But she didn’t budge and through her sheer grit and determination excelled in the sports and made her parents proud.
Bilquees, first international woman kayaker and an international judge in canoeing from Jammu and Kashmir, is one of the pioneers of water sports in the UT as well as in the country.
What made her choose water sports as her career path is an interesting story.
“It was in the year 1997 when I was studying in S.A Modern School. I had a friend who was interested in this sport. I thought to accompany her to Dal Lake where a canoeing and kayaking event was being held. I just wanted to see only how players are doing it,” she said.
With a smile on her face, she recalls that “I prefered to sit and enjoy while watching others playing the game from a distance. But one of the coaches present at the event didn't allow me to sit idle. He strictly suggested that either I play this sport or go home.”
In her first attempt she failed to meet her expectations. Without losing hope, she continued her attempts, learnt well and decided to make a career in it. “The boat also capsized and all my clothes were wet, and for days the event kept reverberating in my mind,” said Bilquees, who is currently chairman Canoe Slalom, Indian Kayaking and Canoeing Association.
After learning the water sports and its techniques, she performed well in many contests and was honoured at the state and national levels.
Her path was not so easy; she had no money when she got an opportunity to take part in the world championship at Szeged Hungary. “I had no money to mark my presence at the international level. I asked my father as well. But he had just consolations for me. I was broken. But my mother helped me and sold her jewellery so that I could take part in the event. My mother was very optimistic about my future.”
Early on, she had to face a lot of opposition and criticism as well. “My relatives criticized my decision. But it did not deter me from pursuing my passion and moved ahead with a high spirit.”
Through her hard work and with mother’s support, she made her international debut in 2009 in the world championship held in Hungary. After that she did not look back and continued earning awards at national and international levels.
Bilquees was also in-charge of Indian canoeing and Kayaking women’s Squad for Asian games in 2010. In the same year she was included in the international refereeing panel of canoeing and kayaking. She was the chief coach of the senior team at the Japan Olympic in 2011. Lately, she was selected as the International technical official in African games held at Maputo in Mozambique.
She has been honoured with prestigious award for being an outstanding sports person in 2010 and Sheri-Kashmir Medal in 2011.
Emphasizing the need for the people in the valley to participate in the sports, Bilquees said, “The sport can do wonders if taken seriously.”
“I think people in Kashmir, especially girls, need to participate in sports. Braving all odds, the girls in Kashmir not only take part but excel in sports as well. Sports are taken for granted here in the valley. But when we move out of Kashmir, it has an altogether different meaning. It has a great scope and respect,” she said.
She said people need awareness and counselling. “I get a good response from the students. Youth are eager to take up the sport. They just need proper training,” she said.
Bilquees finds Kayaking and Canoeing a different and inspiring sport and says the valley has a potential to develop adventure sports including water sports and become a global name and destination.
“Water sports are very adventurous and interesting. The government should promote it as we already have natural water resources here. We have Dal Lake, Nigeen Lake, Mansar Lake, Mansbal Lake, besides Sonamarg and Pahalgam can be developed as wild water (Canoe Slalom) destinations,” she added.