A teenager in India finds his talent and passion for mountain biking — and wins a national competition despite the struggles he faced to get there.
Nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas, Darjeeling, India was once a popular summer retreat for British aristocracy because of its natural beauty.
While it remains a popular destination with tourists from all over the world, many of the people who live and work there are laborers who barely scratch together enough to get by. Many more are unemployed due to a lack of commercial facilities.
Frustrated youths don’t see a way ahead and often turn to drugs and alcohol to cope.
A Place of Peace and Hope
Fourteen-year-old Satyadeep and his family have always lived in Darjeeling in the middle of the city, which is bustling with people buying and selling goods. His father, Satyam, works long hours at a tailoring shop.
They feel fortunate that at least he has a steady income, but many opportunities have been out of reach because of their socio-economic status.
“My parents are poor,” says Satyadeep. “But they had a dream for me to go to an English school so I could go further in my studies.”
His father, Satyam, shares his and his wife’s hopes for their son. “We want him to grow up well, become responsible, and have a good education.”
When Satyadeep was young, his family didn’t know how they would provide him with the good education they wished for him, but they had faith.
One day, a friend of the family told Satyadeep’s parents about the nearby Hope Center and encouraged them to enroll him.
It was instant relief and an answer to prayers: Thanks to the support from his sponsor, Satyadeep could attend an English school and receive far more than they ever imagined for him.
Satyadeep’s first day at his Hope Center was a little scary for him — he was only 4 years old and nervous about new people and a new place. But soon, it became a second home.
“The teachers loved us and cared for us. I started feeling like they were my own family,” he says.
With the support of his Child Champions and family, Satyadeep has had a happy childhood, enjoying the many activities at his Hope Center. He says his teachers’ lessons, wrestling with friends, and singing are some of his favorite activities there.
Satyadeep knows how important his time is at the Hope Center. “It gives me joy, peace, and courage,” he says.
An Unexpected Dream
Satyadeep taught himself to ride a bicycle when he was 6 years old. He then started hearing more about cycling as a sport, not just a means of transportation.
Mountain biking is a popular activity in the area, which piqued Satyadeep’s interest. Even though kids like him who live in poverty usually don’t have an expensive hobby like cycling, his parents saw his determination and allowed him to join the Bengal youth mountain biking team so he could at least learn more about it.
He borrowed his coach’s old, worn-out bike to practice. As it turns out, he was a natural.
Satyadeep’s talent and passion for the sport was something to celebrate. His parents wanted to give him every opportunity to succeed, but his interest in cycling soon turned into a cause for concern: To compete in the 18th Mountain Bike National Championship, he needed his own bike.
Satyam didn’t want his son to miss out on his dream, so he took out a loan to buy a bicycle. The sacrifice allowed Satyadeep to compete in the competition, and his team ended up winning five medals.
Against All Odds
Economic hardship has also been a hinderance for the other kids on Satyadeep’s team. But the Child Champions in their lives are helping them achieve their dreams.
Satyadeep’s coach, Alphonse, goes above and beyond to help children living in poverty who want to compete.
“Our athletes have to battle heavy odds,” he says. There is a dearth of equipment; recognition as professional athletes and, above all, funds are a huge problem. I am training the West Bengal team from my pocket.”
Despite these challenges, Satyadeep’s ability as a mountain biker continues to grow. Recently, he and his teammates competed in the youth category of the 19th Mountain Bike National Championship.
Preparations for the competition were demanding.
“For events like this, I start training at 5 a.m., and it lasts until 8 a.m. Then, I do more training in the evenings from 4 to 7. That equals about two hours of exercise and four hours of cycling. When training, I need to eat a lot of healthy food and take multivitamins to be strong,” shares Satyadeep.
All the hard work was worth it. At the 19th Mountain Bike National Championship, Satyadeep competed among 1,200 participants — and took home the individual gold medal.
“I was very nervous. The competition was fierce, but deep in my heart, I believed that I could do it,” says Satyadeep. “When they announced the results and then heard my name, I was at the top of the mountain.”
More to Achieve
Satyadeep is still overjoyed at the outcome and yet is determined to keep pushing himself. So far, he has participated in eight competitions.
“I get a lot of support from my coach, family members and well-wishers in Darjeeling. I will work hard so that next year I can bag the gold in the sub-junior category,” Satyadeep says.
Between cycling and academics, every hour of his day is accounted for.
“It can be pretty difficult to balance school and training for competitions, but both are so important to me. I don’t like to waste time.”
While Satyadeep has set many goals for himself, he is still at a bit of a disadvantage in his sport since the bicycle his father bought for him was very simple.
“He requires a better cycle, but it is beyond my capacity to buy him a new one,” Satyam says. The carbon cycles used for such competitions are more than Rs. 4 lakh [almost $5,000 U.S. dollars].
A Community Steps In
Thankfully, Satyadeep’s community is supporting him as he continues to train and hit new milestones in the sport. They are helping with entry fees and the cost of equipment when possible — and they’re certainly cheering on the hometown champion when he represents the city during competitions.
Additionally, after being featured in local news outlets, Satyadeep is making a name for himself and has caught the attention of a local nonprofit, the VikRun Foundation. The founder is giving Satyadeep his own personal carbon bicycle since he sees so much potential in him.
Satyadeep knows that he wouldn’t be able to achieve so many cycling accolades if it wasn’t for his friends, family, and mentors.
“My parents encourage me every day. My coach, Mr. Rai, spends so much time training me and telling me I have potential. My physical fitness instructor, Mr. Sundas, tells me that nothing is impossible for the one who tries.” He also receives inspiration when he attends his Hope Center.
“I learn that since God has made me ‘fearfully and wonderfully,’ I can do all things through Him,” says Satyadeep.
Rolling Into the Future
The Hope Center has been instrumental in helping Satyadeep realize his potential and have the confidence to pursue his goals. It has provided him with a second home and a community that celebrates with him.
“All my teachers and friends rejoiced when I won the championship. But even more, they help by guiding me in the right path,” he says. “I have learned that God loves me, and He has a purpose for my life.”
He has big dreams for the future now and hopes to win more medals, encourage other kids to join the sport of cycling, and one day open an academy to help children who want to become mountain bikers.
Satyadeep has discovered a passion, drive, and sense of hope thanks to mountain biking — something that seemed so far out of reach a few short years ago when the mountains were only a backdrop to the city center that Satyadeep calls home.
Now, he is as familiar with them as he is with the winding, busy streets in his neighborhood. His world has expanded, and he can’t wait to see what comes next.
Read about how a bicycle allows a boy in India to help support his family.
Satyadeep has found an activity that is changing his life. Sports and games also play an important role in children’s experiences at their Hope Centers. Not only do they help kids stay active and healthy, but the children practice teamwork, build self-confidence, and learn lessons that come from both winning and losing. Having a safe place to play sports also provides them with a sense of security and allows them to have fun and just be kids!
Check out these photos of children from all over the world as they play and compete.
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