Mountaineer Pasang Lhamu Sherpa Akita and trail runner Mira Rai were named the National Geographic Adventurer of the Year in 2016 and 2017, respectively. Yet another Nepali has been awarded with the prestigious title this year.
Earlier this week on Thursday, National Geographic announced its 2018 Adventurers of the Year, honoring eight achievers in the fields of adventure sports, humanitarianism, conservation and exploration. “This year, we’re honoring trailblazers in the adventure community. These adventurers embody the spirit of bold innovation and are taking leaps forward in their field. They’re pushing boundaries, smashing stereotypes, and overcoming obstacles”, the network wrote.
The adventurers were nominated by photographers, writers, filmmakers, and athletes; and then the list was narrowed down to eight honorees by a panel of National Geographic Adventure staff.
Nepal’s Rajesh Magar is among the honorees this year. The self-taught 21-year-old professional mountain biker has been the National title winner for last three consecutive years. He has also won some trophies from races in India, Singapore, Thailand, and China.
While Magar’s parents – bricklayer father and housekeeper mother – are originally from Solukhumbu, he and his sister were born and raised in Kathmandu. “I used to ask my mum repeatedly to buy a bicycle. She’d give me hope, saying right now we don’t have any money, but she would buy me one when we do”, he told NatGeo.
At 10, he got his first BMX bike – courtesy of a generous employer of his mother. He didn’t know how to ride it back then, and taught it himself. “I would always keep getting lost on my bicycle. I would never be home.”
A couple of years later, Magar bought a rigid mountain bike from a school friend. He had already developed a keen interest in mountain biking by then, as he watched videos of famous bikers on YouTube to learn about their techniques and gears. He wanted to make his bike look like a proper downhill bike — one of those from the YouTube videos he watched. And somehow, he managed to make himself a Frankenbike as he “sketched modifications, found spare parts, and talked a neighbor through how to weld everything together. He swapped in a softer motorcycle suspension, adjusted the head angle, replaced the sprocket, and fit in some nicer cranks.”
“This thing was totally whacked together and he would show up to races with it and do really, really well”, says Joey Schusler – the mountain biker and filmmaker who nominated Magar for the title. “I’ve never, in my whole life of mountain biking, heard of or seen a story like this.”
Mandil Pradhan, a racer, bike distributor, and owner of bike tour company Himalayan Rides, came across Magar in 2014 while he was practicing on a trail outside Kathmandu. He was amazed by hit talent and loaned him a high-quality bike to compete on. Despite riding a new bike with a chain that broke midway through the course, Magar came in fourth place. Pradhan was impressed, and he offered him a job – working first to maintain his fleet of bikes, then as a tour guide.
“Mandil dai gave me an opportunity at a time when I hadn’t had any before”, said Magar in an interview with NatGeo. “Through the last four years, I have learned a lot from [Pradhan] about riding, guiding, and life in general. I can go to him whenever I need advice or support and I know he is there for me.”
Magar’s goal is to compete in the highest level of global competition, the months-long challenge of the Enduro World Series. He hopes to be not just the first from Nepal, but also the first Asian to take a title.
Ultramarathon runner Mirna Valerio, photographers and scientists Cristina Mittermeier and Paul Nicklen, ski mountaineer Hilaree Nelson O’Neill, mountain runner Kilian Jornet, surfer and humanitarian Emi Koch, and rock climber Alex Honnold are the other seven 2018 National Geographic Adventurers of the Year.