Riyaz Ali may be a Class 9 student at Sarvodaya Bal Vidyalaya, Anand Vihar, but he’s already been through the school of hard knocks. Before the pandemic, his coach would wake him up at 3:30 am. He would train as a cyclist from 4:00am to 8:00am before reporting as a busboy at a restaurant from 9:30am to 12:00pm, and again from 7:00pm to 12:00am.
In between, he would attend school from 12:00pm to 5:00pm. “My PT teacher Arvind Aryaji had introduced me to Pramod Sharmaji, who is a national level coach and now my mentor and trainer. I was encouraged to go to different competitions around India, where I tried out different terrains (flat, mountain, track),” says Ali, who won a bronze medal in the 2017 Delhi State Cycling Championship and has since competed around the country at national levels.
While his family hails from Madhubani in Bihar, the 16-year-old grew up in Delhi. His father who worked as a cook before the lockdown was put in place. “He went back to the village, where my mother and the rest of the family live, while I stayed on. With the school closed and the restaurant also having shut, I do odd jobs to make some money,” says Ali. He now lives with a roommate in Maharajpur, Ghaziabad, and misses his monthly salary of around Rs 8,000 at the restaurant.
“My parents used to be unhappy that I spent so much time on cycling. They would say that there is no future in it, but I’m determined to be successful in this field. I told them not to send me a single rupee, just look after themselves, and I would work towards my ambitions here,” says Ali, before admitting shyly that his parents have since become more accepting, even proud of his choice. It was champion cyclist Aftab Afridi who first mentioned Ali’s situation to a few media houses, from whom the Ghaziabad DM got to know and made some calls.
A little while ago, Ali had the surprise of his life when he was told he’d be visiting Rashtrapati Bhavan a day before Eid-al- Adha, to meet President Ram Nath Kovind and be gifted his own bicycle. The statement from the president’s office, which also photographed and marked the visit on its social media handles, reads: “President Kovind wished him very best in the life and said that his story should serve as worthy of emulation for the country’s youth who must come forward for nation-building by dint of their dedication, hard work, courage and honesty.
” Speaking more simply, Ali marvelled that he now has his own bicycle, “jo itna accha hai, mere size ka bhi hai (“It’s wonderful, it’s even my size”), and is determined to dominate his chosen track, now that he has his own wheels. However, he is worried about how he’ll sustain himself, as he wants to continue studying alongside training for future tournaments. He and Pramod Sharma have requested the President to enable Ali to join the National Cycling Academy where he can train as he needs to in order to achieve his dreams.
Ali won a bronze medal in the 2017 Delhi State Cycling Championship and has since competed around the country at national levels.