Nadeem Iqbal was praying for early snowfall in Kashmir this season and he believes it is a good omen that his prayer has been answered.
The 30-year-old skier of the Jammu and Kashmir Light Infantry is the first Kashmiri soldier to be selected for the Winter Olympics in Sochi,Russia,next month and the early snowfall has allowed him to work more on his technique and increase his stamina and speed.
Iqbal qualified for Sochi at the Federation Internationale Ski Nordic Qualifying Races in Italy and France in November and December. His mates at the Armys High Altitude Warfare School (HAWS) are jubilant over the selection and everyone at the school is now praying for a medal.
Initially,I was not sure I will get selected. My hard work and the faith of my instructors in my skills helped me to qualify, Iqbal told The Sunday Express in between his daily practice sessions of seven hours on the foothills of the snow-capped Affarwat peak in Gulmarg.
Since my selection,I am putting extra effort. My only aim is to win a medal for my country and I have to improve my speed in the Nordic event, said Iqbal,who is one of three athletes from India who have qualified for the Alpine skiing event.
Iqbal belongs to Bharot village in Rajouri and joined the Army in March 2003. His physical fitness and skiing potential saw him being selected by HAWS instructors in 2004 to learn skiing. Here,I learned everything about skiing and my instructors turned me an international player from a novice, Iqbal said.
Iqbals father died when he was only three years old. His mother enrolled him at the Muslim Institute in Phalangarh where he did his early schooling and passed his matriculation examinations. From my childhood,I was always fascinated by the Army and its discipline. So after passing the class X exam,I decided to join the Army, he said.
A good athlete who loved cricket as a youngster,Iqbal is now an accomplished skier who also teaches young soldiers at HAWS.
Iqbals golden run started in 2008 when he won a silver medal in the fifth National Winter Games in Gulmarg. A year later,he won gold,silver and a bronze in the national skiing championship. But the first big prize came his way in 2011 when he won a gold medal in the first South Asian Winter Games in Auli,Uttarakhand. He then participated in the seventh Asian Winter Games in Almaty in Kazakhstan and stood fourth.
Iqbal was promoted to the rank of havaldar after he won medals in the national and Asian games and an Olympic medal could see him promoted to the rank of junior commissioned officer.
Iqbal has all the potential to win a medal for the country even though the competition is very tough and foreign players have more exposure and training than him. Still,we have faith in him, said Col. Satya Pal Malik,who is in charge of the Army ski team. Qualifying for an Olympics event is in itself a great achievement and this young soldier has done it.
Iqbals coach and fellow skier B D Gurung said his participation in the Olympic Games will inspire others at HAWS. We have many Kashmiri soldiers who are part of our team and Iqbals selection has already encouraged all of them and they also want to be part of the Indian Olympic team and win medals for the country in the coming years, Gurung said.