International sports activities in Pakistan have come to a crawl due to the reluctance of foreign athletes to visit the country. So it was hardly surprising that trialbiking world champion Kenny Belaey's recent tour of Pakistan served as a treat for the audience. The 27-year-old Belgian, who has mastered the art of merging daring bicycle moves and stunts with creativity, performed at various venues in Karachi, Lahore, and Islamabad in a bid to promote the sport in the country as well as raise funds for flood victims. Us was lucky enough to get an exclusive interview with Kenny and ask him about trialbiking and his trip to Pakistan. Here's what he had to say…
Us: Please tell Us a bit about yourself.
Kenny Belaey: I started doing trials when I was 9, with only one goal, and that was winning! So anything I did was all in preparation of my performance. That also meant that I wasn't really a good student actually, because it's hard to combine school and hard work, plus I didn't get the support of the school to make my life easier. I always passed classes and topped sports education when I was 18 (high school) but never went to University. Let's just say I had different plans than the other school kids, and I'm glad it turned out fine. My parents have always been very supportive in what I did, because they saw that I was determined and not fooling around, so they let me do my thing, which I respect a lot; not all parents would do that. My brother Wesley is 4 years younger than me and is doing the same thing. He mainly does shows now. He stopped competing for a year and is taking care of our bike sales business that we both are running; we are importers of a Spanish bike brand, Monty.
Us: How did you become interested in bike trials? What prompted you to take up the sport?
Kenny: Our dad, a national motortrials champion, took us with him to his races. When we saw his colleagues' kids doing the same thing on a bike, Wesley and I wanted to do that too. Dad sold all of his gear and started driving us all over Europe so we could compete.
Us: What was it like winning your first championship? Have the subsequent wins felt different in any way?
Kenny: The first race I ever competed was somewhere in the early '90s; I got the 3rd position. A couple of years later, I won my first cadet UCI World Championship in 1998 – that win and the last win in Canada (September 5, 2010) feel the same; only, the impact is bigger because now it's not just a hobby anymore and a lot more is depending on it.
Us: You recently won the Elite World Championship for the fourth time, your ninth title overall. First of all, congratulations! Secondly, what do you think makes you so successful and able to stand out amongst all the competitors?
Kenny: Dedication, hard work and self-discipline, and most important of all: 'planning', because if I wouldn't [plan], I would go mad. It's not easy to combine training with a globetrotting lifestyle, but it works.
Us: What is your daily routine? How many hours a day do you train/practice?
Kenny: I train every day from 10 to 12 and from 3 to 5. That includes gym/bike specific rehearsals and improvement of jumps, running, cycling and plyometrics. In between, I try to rest as much [as I can] and take care of my businesses because I take care of my own management.
Us: Have you sustained any particularly bad injuries while training/competing?
Kenny: Apart from scratches and scars, I haven't broken a single bone in my body, but touch wood and hope for the best because in this kind of sport it's easy to get injured, of course.
Us: You're sponsored by various big brands. What importance does such sponsorship hold for an athlete?
Kenny: It's everything, because without sponsors we can't make a living out of it, and an athlete should only focus on his 'thing' and not be worried about 'how will I pay the bills by the end of the month?' For me, Red Bull has been the greatest brand to work with; it's all because of them that I have seen 20 countries, and they treat me like a king… although I know that's temporary, because when I come home I'm not a king anymore and just Kenny, haha! But it's hard work, too: interviews, shows, touring, airplanes and squeezing training in isn't easy, but nothing comes for free, does it?
Us: How has your experience of visiting Pakistan been so far? And would you consider touring here again?
Kenny: I was very scared of coming because of [what I saw of Pakistan through] the media, but I would recommend people to definitely come here, especially to Islamabad in the mountains; it's very nice over there. And if my sponsors ask me to do it again, I would for sure!
Us: What are the things that you have liked the i) best and ii) least during this visit?
Kenny: The crowds were the best one by far from all my tours! I am not saying this to make you feel good, really. I didn't know 750 people could sound like 2500! The least: the bomb blast in Karachi really concerned me because I've been on that spot earlier, so you think about it differently than when you just see it on the news. I can't believe people can actually do that and I hope that will stop one day.
Us: What do you think is the scope of trialbiking in Pakistan?
Kenny: I don't think there are any trialbikers in Pakistan, but by showing this sport to the people they might be influenced to go out and try some basic moves on regular bikes, like standing still for example… you'll be amazed by how much this can help you, even in traffic from a safety point of view.
Us: Do you have any suggestions on how sports can be improved here?
Kenny: It needs awareness and people must really do sports; I am convinced 'sports' in general is good to do. It will make you feel better, and a person who feels better also has a clearer mind, and that's good for everything you want to do in life after sports, whether it's business, studying or just relaxing afterward. Go for it!!
Us: You're supporting the 12-12 charity programme. Could you please tell Us about that?
Kenny: I always planned to support this charity fund, and when I knew I was coming to Pakistan, there was no doubt that I wanted to support the people in rebuilding their lives. My target is 2000 Euros for the next couple of weeks, and I already have over 500 now, plus when I return to Belgium I'll try to exceed that target; should be possible.
Us: Is there a lot of travelling involved in trialbiking? Does it in any way affect your personal life?
Kenny: Well, I like travelling a lot; otherwise I wouldn't be doing it for so long. My girlfriend [rider Fien Lammertyn] needs to accept it, for sure; she does it perfectly so I'd say there are no issues. Whenever I am home everything is better then; there is no routine in my life and that's how I'm used to it and how I like it so far. I think once I'll get older I might take it easy but right now, I'm far from that.
Us: If you weren't a trialbiker, what profession would you have chosen?
Kenny: That's very hard to say. I have really no idea but I know one thing… since I can't imagine a better life, I would most definitely not be as happy. And one thing is for sure, I am an entrepreneur; so I think I would start my own business and realise things… that's what I like – create what hasn't been done before and always aim higher. The sky is the limit.
Us: Do you have any hobbies? What do you do in your spare time (presuming you get any)?
Kenny: Playing the guitar, listening to music, watching a movie, fishing, but it's been awhile. And in winter, I do snowboarding.
Us: What's your favourite book, television series, movie, and band/musician?
Book: I only read magazines, no books. I like bike magazines and National Geographic because I like bikes and nature.
Television show/series: The Simpsons, but I have to admit I rarely watch TV.
Movie: The last one I saw was Knight and Day; that was cool. No real favourite, though.
Band/musician: Got so many! I like Joe Bonamassa's guitar skills; he's a Blues player. I like Metallica a lot because they have been there for so long and are still kicking it, big time. Also, Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, so basically a lot of old school rock and roll.
Us: What do you hope to achieve in the future? What are your goals?
Kenny: I'll continue what I am doing already part-time right now while competing, which is promoting trials by organising competitions, managing riders, and selling bikes, and trying to bring [the sport] to levels that have never been seen before.
Us: Any message for the readers?
Kenny: I'd say go for it. Whatever dream you have, chase it and work hard because no one is going to ask you to live the dream for free. Try to find out what you like and make this your target. Once your target is reached, set a higher one and don't try to force it; it might take time though.
Nickname: The Magician
Date of Birth: 26-01-1983
Profession: Pro Rider
Disciplines: Trialbiking (20"&26")
Photo credits: Yasir Nisar