HANGZHOU: Iran's Faranak Partoazar spread her arms wide in celebration as she crossed the finish line at the Chun'an Jieshou Sports Centre Mountain Bike course, embracing freedom just as she did in her youth. Then she collapsed on the ground with tears streaming down her face.
Xinhua reported the 35-year-old captured the bronze medal in the women's mountain bike competition on Monday at the Hangzhou Asian Games, becoming the first Iranian woman to win an Asian Games medal in any cycling discipline.
"From my childhood I was an ambitious person. In whatever I was trying to do, I was thinking big," she said.
"Being at the Asian Games and getting a medal was really an impossible task for us in Iran once, but that changed from today."
In 2018, Partoazar placed fourth at the Jakarta Asian Games. This time, she advanced to the podium in Hangzhou.
"It will be a huge inspiration because we always look at examples, and you have to believe that something is possible. Getting this medal shows that there are many talented women in Iran who can continue on this path. I hope I've made it easier, and next time we can win more medals," said Partoazar.
She was born in the southern Iranian city of Shiraz. At the age of nine, she learned to ride a bicycle.
Influenced by traditional views, girls were expected to engage in indoor and quiet events like chess, but she could never forget the joy of cycling.
One day when she was 20 years old, Partoazar could not hold back the impulse and borrowed her brother's dusty bike. With a firm grip on the handlebars, she rode freely on the narrow streets, basking in the sun and embracing the sense of freedom.
Partoazar said she would never forget that day. "Even though many people laughed at me, that was the brightest day of my life," she said.
A month later, Partoazar encountered a group of cycling enthusiasts on the street. Impressed by her pure love for the sport, one of them invited her to race in a women's competition in Fars Province, where Shiraz is located. "It was my first opportunity to compete, and I accepted," she recalled.
On her debut, Partoazar could not contain her nervousness. Compared to others, her bicycle was old, and she knew nothing about adjusting or repairing it.
At the start of the race, she was quickly left behind by the pack, but she kept pushing forward. "I didn't know any other techniques; I only knew how to keep moving forward."
To everyone's surprise, the unknown girl finished in third place. She said, "Mountain biking really taught me to gain confidence and believe in myself."
After that initial success, she never looked back. Partoazar majored in civil engineering at university, but after graduation, she did not pursue a career in that field, as her parents had hoped. Instead, she practised on her bike every day, honing her skills and mental strength. "Although sometimes I got injured, I really enjoyed cycling," she said. "I used to be shy, and cycling taught me how to build confidence."
Compared to smooth roads, mountain biking on rugged terrain was even more challenging. In her circle, only two of the best male riders dared to race downhill from the mountains. Partoazar quickly developed a love for this thrilling event but once suffered a heavy fall on her attempt.
She was injured, and an ambulance rushed her to the hospital, accompanied by her worried parents. That time, not only her parents but also her friends advised her to give up this dangerous sport. While lying in bed recovering from injuries, Partoazar often cried in the dark.
Throughout her previous life, no one supported her cycling dream, and she had relied on herself. She began searching on the internet for information, hoping to find like-minded individuals.
"I found that many athletes, once they can no longer do the sport they love, they lose themselves," she said. "And I have always considered myself a cyclist."
She decided to continue and announced an impressive comeback. In 2014, she started to train and compete with the Iranian nation
al team. From then until 2020, she won all the gold medals in the National Championship and won several medals in Asian Championships.
Alone in the wilderness, Partoazar is willing to pave the way for younger generations. Outside cycling, she enjoys telling her story to inspire more women and young people to pursue their own passions. She believes that sport has no boundaries; anyone of any race, gender, or age can participate. However, the road to pursuing dreams is often rocky and filled with obstacles.
"When you try to achieve something that hasn't been done before, you think it's really impossible, and changing this from impossible to possible requires a lot of efforts," she said. "I know how important dreams are for children, and this path is not easy. I hope to inspire them, which is far more important than standing on the podium."
With the Paris Olympics approaching, Partoazar has set her eyes on qualifying for the Olympic Games next year. "Looking at many top athletes in the world, you realize it's not all about age. I will do my best, and that is my top goal." – Bernama