Parasports January 19, 2020
#AutismPower – Varun Sawant set to make history at Tata Mumbai Marathon 2020
UPDATE: Varun Sawant completed the full marathon in four hours and 27 minutes.
Running a full marathon needs strength, guts and courage. 21-year-old Varun Sawant has all that and more. This Mumbai lad with autism is looking to set a record today at the Tata Mumbai Marathon 2020 as the first person with autism to complete a full marathon.
Among the sea of runners at the Tata Mumbai Marathon 2020 is a 21-year-old looking to set a milestone both personal and for the disabled community at large. Mumbai boy Varun Sawant is running the full marathon of 42 kilometres and set a record as the first person on the autism spectrum to finish the challenge successfully.
Diagnosed with autism when he was less than three years old, Varun excelled at the different kinds of sports his parents introduced him to. When he showed interest in running, they approached Kaushik Panchal, a certified marathon coach, to teach Varun. Kaushik runs a centre called Runners Academy where he has trained about 1,000 runners. Varun is his first student on the autism spectrum.
Running a form of therapy for Varun
“We started running as a form of therapy for Varun”, says Kaushik. “I was insistent that his father accompany him during the training sessions as I was not sure how to train someone with autism especially since I train groups of people. Varun surprised me with his discipline and conduct”.
The idea of running a full marathon struck them last year after Varun completed the 21-kilometre run at the Mumbai Marathon successfully. “I felt the full run was a natural progression and his body was supporting this”, says Panchal.
He will be the first person on the autism spectrum to run the full marathon in India. I have not found any runner with autism in all of Asia who has done a full marathon. So, this is big one. After Varun I have trained many other runners with autism, but they are unable to go beyond a certain level as they get bored and restless. Varun has the discipline and the rigour to achieve this. – Kaushik Panchal, Varun’s marathon coach
Running alongside Varun will be Kaushik Bhatia, who is also a member of Runners Academy. Varun usually runs with his father, so this is also a first for him. “My husband had a leg injury and could not train for the marathon this year, so Varun is running with someone else”, says his mother Darshana Sawant, who is understandably anxious. “He works so hard at everything he does, and 42-km is quite a distance. I hope the weather in Mumbai stays chilly so he can finish it comfortably”.
Varun’s many admirers
Bhatia is confident that Varun and he will complete the full marathon comfortably. “We did a practice run of 37-km in December and it went off well. My role is to ensure I keep him calm during the run. I will keep talking to him and ensure I check his heart rate regularly”.
Among those cheering for Varun from the tracks is blind marathoner Vineet Saraiwala who ran the half marathon.”Varun is a great example of how hard work, discipline and focus can lead to success. He runs incredibly fast and a full marathon highlights the richness of talent within the neurodiverse community. He is a champion and a role model to all runners with disabilities”.
The WOW Factor
Mom Darshana is happy that Varun’s achievements are about so much more than just individual success. “Varun will help open doors for many children on the spectrum. His self-esteem has improved so much. People look at him differently. There is this wow feeling. People say he has autism, but he runs marathons”.
Given Varun’s qualities, ‘wow’ is something people will be saying about him for a long time.