Samar Khan- The Sports Entrepreneur

She became the first Pakistani to bike up on Biafo Glacier and her journey continued in 2017 when she left the bounds of Pakistan and reached East Africa and biked up on the ‘Roof of Africa’ Kilimanjaro; becoming the only Pakistani to have ever achieved that supported by the Pakistan Army (ISPR). 

Samar Khan is a Pakistani cyclist. She is the first woman in the world to ride a cycle on 4,500 meters Biafo Glacier in the Karakoram Mountains of Gilgit Baltistan. She reached the Pak-China border, Khunjerab from Islamabad on cycle & rode over 4693 meters in -5 °C to set a national record. She holds a master\’s degree in Physics from Federal Urdu University. She discovered her love for sports in the Army School of Physical Training, Kakul, from where she learned Paragliding. 

This is a story of resilience from the Pashtoon lands of Dira story that sings the songs of hope, commitment, and courage. It is this story that would have made Allama Iqbal proud when he said: “Tundi e baad e mukhaalif say na ghabra aye uqaab,ye tau chalti ha tujhay oonch uranay kay liay” Sports industry today offers phenomenal prospects for young entrepreneurs. Samar Khan is an entrepreneur and changemaker dedicated to providing early positive experiences to children all across Pakistan. In 2015, she founded SamarCamp, an initiative to empower youth through action sports and produce not only athletes but competent sports trainers from Pakistan. Sports is a lifestyle which we need to adopt in our daily lives to gain the benefits of strength, confidence, and leadership, she says. 

The objective of ‘Samar Camp’ is to conduct cycling camps, cycling trips, mountaineering, and other adventure expeditions in every province to involve the local community and make them economically empower- ed through sports. Committed to changing the face of youth sports, Samar created training programs focused on character and movement pillars designed to build confidence in youngsters. In just a short time, Samar has taken off. With over 5000 participants at multiple locations, it’s one of the fastest-growing youth sports this decade and it doesn’t show any signs of stopping. If you want to be inspired, simply read Samar Khan\’s story. 

Samar Khan belongs to a Pashtoon community from Lower Dir. She was raised with the belief of the limitations she had as a female, whenever she wanted to make a choice. She grew up as a domestic girl, who could have never imagined pursuing her career in sports as it was the proverbial ‘man’s field’. She realized this when she got fascinated by martial arts during her teenage and wanted to start training like her brother. But her parents asked her to focus on her education which was a blessing since her cousins in their village were not even allowed to go to school. As Samar’s family moved to Rawalpindi and she got the opportunity to keep pursuing her education, but tragedy struck when her father passed away while she was completing her Graduate degree and she had to quit her education. Financial pressure took her to a call center; where she worked for 9 hours a day and seven days a week. 

Samar wanted to resume her education as she wanted to become a physicist, but she could not leave being the only source of earning she had. With resilience as her armor, Samar kept trying and finally got a scholarship in Federal Urdu University of Arts, Science & Technology, Islamabad. She began her dream of getting a Master\’s Degree in Physics and bearing the expenses. She started teaching online and found some students in different countries. 

Her windows began to pen in university when she came across a paragliding course by Pakistan Army which sparked her desire again, she grabbed the opportunity which opened many doors to sports like trekking, mix- martial arts, and cycling. Samar has known that in Pakistan a woman is more challenged than anywhere else. She has to deal with harassment, break the social barriers, deal with family and financial pressures with a continuous ticking clock of marriage all the while struggling to remain healthy and mentally peaceful. In spite of these realizations, Samar is an example of what it is to be resilient. Samar’s first expedition was in 2015 where she rode a bike all the way from Islamabad to the highest international border, Khunjerab (Pak-China border, Sep 2015) a stiff lesson about the cumbersome ways of sports. Later, she became the first Pakistani to bike up on Biafo Glacier, Karakoram Range in August 2016. Her journey continued in 2017 when she left the bounds of Pakistan and reached East Africa and biked up on the ‘Roof of Africa’ Kilimanjaro; becoming the only Pakistani to have ever achieved that supported by the Pakistan Army (ISPR). 

All the time she was mocked and ridiculed by her seniors and fellow sports enthusiasts for not being capable enough and for making false claims about her adventure sports. Her breakthrough came when she got selected in the ‘Global Sports Mentoring Program’ by ESPNW. She was blessed by heaven when she came in close interaction with her role model, Jake Burton Carpenter, founder of ‘Burton Snowboards’ who started his journey in 1977, from a small barn in Vermont. He became a multimillionaire just by creating the craze of snowboarding. Like a fairy Godmother, his wife Donna Carpenter CEO of Burton Snowboards mentored Samar and transformed her from an athlete to an inspired and aspiring entrepreneur. Burton Snowboards opened the enigmatic doors of entrepreneurship for her. The action sports initiative, called ‘SamarCamp’ emerged from all that rigorous trainings by top-notch sports executives of the USA. As Samar learned about converting her passion into a business, she also worked on involving the local community and empowering them through action sports. 

For Samar, entrepreneurship is a disruptive solution to existing problems. Not every crazy-sounding catchy idea can be launched. There has to be stringent due diligence of market research to ensure that after the incubation, the idea will be productive and sustainable. Hard and smart work go hand in hand along with an immense passion for the idea to ensure the idea becomes a business. Also, for Samar, it is essential that the idea creates job and employment opportunities in the community that a business operates in. 

The idea was to conduct sports camps for mountain biking, snowboarding, and mountaineering; which were her chief strengths already. And to involve the biggest sports brands, media channels, and corporate sector as her potential partners. As with any new business, the challenges were many and multi-pronged such as, finding a reliable team with the same passion and refining the idea enough to attract investors or sponsors. 

Samar knew that she must self-learn in countless areas and reach out to companies to talk about her projects. Starting small with dreaming big was what boosted her confidence and kept her motivated; she successfully pulled off her first cycling event with Peshawar Zalmi in 2017 and for the very first- time girls were riding bikes in Peshawar in their local outfits, shawls, and hijabs. 

Names like DGS, Malamjabba Ski Resort, ISPR, Shaoor Foundation, and companies from private sectors became her sponsors for different expeditions and events. The greatest push for glory came from people! The interest in her story was widespread and very strong! This interest in her life story helped her groom and polish herself to become a confident and effective public speaker. Social media was another challenge to grow and brand her ideas; as it’s almost impossible to elevate your business and share your work without the use of social media. Instagram and Facebook are her favorite platforms so far to express herself as an adventure athlete and to connect with communities for her sports projects under ‘SamarCamp’. She also works with WWF Pakistan as a goodwill ambassador, to compliment nature conservation by promoting eco-friendly sports. 

Discipline and consistency are the key factors in keeping yourself going, and it’s better to allocate days to certain tasks like researching and proposal building on weekends, trainings, meet-ups, and follow-ups during weekdays, mornings, and nights dedicated to your health and fitness. This reflects in her daily routine. She also keeps her journal and manages her event calendar of sports trainings, business meet-ups, events, and conferences both nationally and internationally. 

SamarCamp has conducted numerous cycling events and snow sports projects in collaboration with different organizations in different cities to involve the public and especially the youth, as sports is the best agent to induce leadership qualities, confidence, patience, and spirit to live positively. The team members also get the chance to explore different mountainous regions and meet amazing people during events; which keep them motivated to work for such a cause. 

Samar dreams of seeing herself and her fellow enthusiast and athletes in X- Games and other international sporting platforms. She wishes not only to sustain her business as an entrepreneur but remain true to the spirit of entrepreneurship. She wishes to leave a legacy for the future of Pakistan benefiting from her struggle and carrying her shining beacon onwards! This is not just another story of a young woman from Pakistan. It is a story of an entrepreneur with a dream to achieve something bigger than money. She is changing lives and that’s what is important. Creating jobs, driving innovation, and empowering the women youth of Pakistan by developing their skills and abilities to achieve better things for themselves. It is a social responsibility of a business to give back to the communities in which they thrive to achieve their financial objectives. 

Our youth is strongly hit by the blow of information technology and today, youngsters are more focused on their electronic devices than any other thing. They are more willing to spend their free time on Facebook or Instagram rather to play football or even cricket. This is affecting not only their bodies but their brains as well. It has been proven many times that the training, discipline, and following rules involved in any sporting activity develop better behaviors in the students of any educational institute. So, it is imperative for parents and teachers to understand the importance of physical activities including; cycling, outdoor and indoor sports, or hiking to persuade kids. Our youth need to be in the playgrounds to understand teamwork harmony, move their muscles, fall, and learn rather than making videos on social media. Our take is not to discourage the importance of social media but the lack of sports and outdoor activities in the lives of our millennials. 

There was a time in Pakistan when inter- school sports tournaments were very popular among the students. Sporting activities were an integral part of the school life. Unfortunately, today, it is not and schools are making more buildings on the available grounds to the ever increasing number of students. Government is also loosing focus in this regard to provide better grounds and recreational parks for the youngsters. This results in a huge gap between entrepreneurs and sports industry of Pakistan. However, this brings an opportunity for aspiring entrepreneurs who want to explore the sports event management industry including sports festivals, inter college tournaments etc. This market is quite untapped at the moment and very few players are reaping the fruit. One of them is Total Football, partnering with many local clubs and other private companies to organize football matches on booking. There are many other opportunities available for the new entrants in terms of providing tracking services to a group of people or organizing a cycling marathon. This is high time to get into this business and grab the maximum share of the pie.