Here’s the inspiring story of Devi’s Guide Running :
How does it feel to be with a group of young ladies aged 17 to early twenties? Yes, you guessed it right – you are surrounded by lively chattering, laughter, giggles and jokes; and with this group of girls joking at their own characteristic of being visually impaired – ‘’Kannu kaanisuthailva’’ –‘can’t you see properly’ says one girl to the other after the latter tripped slightly while walking. The first one responded with ‘how can I see’ and out came the pat chorus response from 3 girls, ‘’manasena kannugalindha nodedhare ella kannusathe’’ – ‘look through your heart and everything will be visible’ ending with giggles from all four girls.
I had spent the first half century of my time on earth leading a fairly sedentary life, working long office hours tied up sitting at my desk. A few aches and pains across my back, hips and knees forced me to focus on my physical wellbeing. I started exercising since the past 2 years and had done a few 5Ks and a couple of 10K. I had been training and was tentatively hoping on completing a half marathon in a year’s time.
I came across a note on Bangalore Pinkathon Facebook for volunteers to train Visually impaired runners. This was organized by Bhumika Patel, who is the head coach for Pinkathon. I volunteered and went in for the first day of training to Kanteerva Stadium and met the rest of the friendly training volunteers. Shortly we saw 2 autos; a bunch of girls climbed out and stood standing holding each other. We went to the gate to receive and introduce ourselves. Shy, smiling, fresh faces of our VI trainees from Samardhanam greeted us with each giving their names softly. We guided them to our training spot and started with stretches. Most of our wards were 100% blind and we physically guided them through the stretches. Then came a tight spot where I was not able to guide the trainee with a stretch and was wondering on the next step when the request came from the girl – ‘’akka, you do the stretch, I will touch and feel it and repeat’’. There…. a simple and elegant solution! So, started my first day with our VI achievers.
Across the course of 3 months of training of 3 days a week, I partnered with different girls. I enjoyed their company, telling them what was happening around as we ran around the stadium, their simple questions, their dreams of what they would like to become once they completed their studies. I enjoyed guiding the girls, and as the days progressed, I encouraged my partner for the day to run without holding hand.
The quickest learner was Chaitra, a thin slip of a girl, who enjoyed the freedom of running totally independent on straight road. The training days moved fast with different activities such as speed runs, strength training, foam rolling, gait analysis and advice by Physiotherapist, question & answer session by gynaecologist, long run on the actual route to be followed on the race day. The overall strategy for the marathon was to follow the run-walk method as most of our girls were first time runners.
I was to guide Kalavathy, with whom I had done training runs on a few days and we were comfortable with each other. As D day neared she had her trepidations and felt that she can only do a 5K. She had already run 10 K during a couple of training sessions with ease, I spoke about this to her and told her that she can do a 21K easily and more too.
D Day – The girls and a couple of guys were at the stadium looking smart in their new sportswear and shoes. They were chirpy and ready to start the marathon which was to flag off at 4:15 AM. Kalavathy was there smiling; I asked her how many Kms did she plan on running and she gives a demure response of ‘as many Kms as you say’! Hand in hand we went near the start line. We started off with a slow run; with other VI girls along with their respective guides running ahead or behind. There were cheers from one girl to the other as each recognized the other by their voice or the guide calling out the name of the other runner. I continued with the slow run and brisk walk with Kalavathy per the plan. We completed 3Kms when she said that she wanted to go faster than our current pace. This was a new Kala, different from the one I had seen during the training. She had an urgency in her voice and a strong yearning to go fast. I am a slow pacer and I knew that I cannot match the new Kala’s requirement. Ahead of us, I saw 2 other guide volunteers running and called out to them for help. Rajesh agreed immediately to be her guide and I handed over Kala to Rajesh, both of whom disappeared quickly from my sight.
I continued at my pace of walk and run and came upon VI Mangalagowri along with guide Saroj at around 10 KM mark. Saroj is a great motivator and was urging Mangala on. I joined them and started talking to Mangala in Kannada, whose energy levels were lagging a bit. I asked her if she had pain anywhere. She said she did not and hearing a person speaking in Kannada revived her and off the 3 of us went. We stopped at the first aid tent at 11 KM point and Saroj applied painkiller spray on Mangala’s calves. The 3 of us continued on with slow run-walk.
After a point in time Mangala again lagged and was willing only to walk. We walked with her coaxing to run the short downslope stretches. As we were returning on MG Road close to the 15K mark, I asked her again if she had pain anywhere. She then said that her left toes were hurting badly. We stopped at the nearest hydration point and sat her down. On checking her feet, found that the shoe had been laced too tightly and that was squeezing her toes. We loosened the lace, applied painkiller spray and retied her shoes; checked the right leg and found it to be tied correctly. We started off again, and soon there was big smile of relief on Mangala’s face. The pain had disappeared, and she was ready to again run! YAY!! We made the rest of our journey using the run walk method with one stop in between to provide a short stretch for Mangala. Along with Saroj’s cheerful motivation and my chatter in Kannada, we completed the 21K in 3 hours and 40 minutes at an average pace of 10. Mangala was tired but happy with her achievement.
It was not just Mangala’s victory, it was mine too; my first half marathon! I had completed my first half marathon a year ahead of my schedule. The energy of the VI girls during their training, their enthusiasm to do better and cover longer distance than the previous day had been my motivation and this half marathon completion has given me the conviction that I can now target completing a full marathon in 6 month’s to a year’s time.
I will be back training, with the girls, helping the girls on their path to discovery of what each can achieve. The girls are the living expression of the saying ‘Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can.’
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