What matters is how we run the race - Guest Column by Vineet Saraiwala, visually impaired marathoner
Like Marathon and Death, everyone completes the race. What matters is how we complete it.
As I was crossing the finishing line of the Ladakh Marathon, I was in tears. I had a sense of accomplishment, relief, jubilation and calm. A Zen-like feeling that left me feeling tranquil. Running at high altitude teaches you gratitude. We often focus on the things we don't have - money, job, beauty, family, relationships, or disability.
Like I feel bad about the fact that I am losing my sight through a degenerative process of Retinitis Pigmentosa, in which the vision reduces as age progresses. I fail to realise that I have a sound mind and a body that allows me to run five half marathons. I fail to realise that we should be grateful to the Supreme Being that we are able to breathe. Breathing is the Life force behind us and you feel the need for it intensely at 11,000 feet above sea level in the land of high passes - Ladakh.
During my Hiranandani Thane Marathon, a fellow runner was startled and inspired to complete the marathon because of me. He meant that if blind people could complete the run, he surely could. I am so fortunate to be considered an inspiration for so many fellow runners. Post my marathon a runner blessed me and called me a true champion. Whenever I run, I am the centre of attention for cameras and fellow runners. It might be a mixture of curiosity, amazement and sympathy.
First among equals
I want to get it straight that yes, blind people can run and there is nothing great about it. Greatness will truly come when blind people break all time barriers to be crazy fast on the track. Appreciate us as fellow runners, as humans, as equals, but please do not appreciate us as Blinds who can run because we have legs.
A lot of individuals fail to acknowledge this basic point. Just because we don't have eyes, does not mean we can't hear, talk, think, or rely on other senses to work.
Last year, I cycled from Manali to Khardungla, which is a 550-km distance, on a tandem cycle. The journey took me a little more than what I expected, but the Ladakh scenery and culture brought me back this year. This time for running a half marathon. You can fall in love with this place - the calm rivers, chilly winds, the prayer flags, the change in landscape, and above all the realisation that Life has some meaning if you try to find it.
Running and life can be pointless or meaningful depending on your perspective. In fact, life is between the pointless and the search for meaning.
Reuven, an Israeli friend with blindness, gifted me the Tether which is a simple band and enables me to run freely. It gives everyone complete flexibility in running without holding your partner. Though technology is a work in progress, I feel that running with an elastic band is a good option which all Blinds can explore. When you take a turn, the motion from the Tether is a good cue and with great sync from your partner, it is revolutionary.
My mamaji introduced me to the world of marathons and has been my coach and partner in all my races. We understand each other's pace and thanks to his encouragement I can finish my runs. We talk, joke, sing and are sometimes are completely silent while running. Running can sometimes become boring but having a companion always boosts you.
Why I run
When a marathon starts, navigating the initial part is hard because of the crowds. As it progresses, I love the atmosphere, the sound of the drums, the emotions, the zigzag rout, the juices and most important the feeling of being free. It gives me a sense of liberation and the confidence to do whatever I dream of. It helps me to stay calm and stretch my personal limits. While running, visual cues from the partner helps to recreate the entire picture in my mind. I feel runners with visual disability run the race in their head and it is completely internal in nature.
During my childhood,I always use to run in the Iconic Jubilee park in Jamshedpur and it was fun.I was a morning person and always use to go for short runs. I have run four Half Marathons till now and Ladakh was the fifth. To describe my running, I have a moderate pace and have managed a sub three-hour finish in all the races so far. Whenever I want to practise alone,It's my treadmill where I run at a constant speed and outdoor activities like Trekking helps me stay fit. I have nearly completed all the treks in Maharashtra and feel that it's a great way of training your other senses.
Ladakh was a dream and I was lucky to get my good friend Amrit Vatsa as a mentor. On the first day of practise, we were struggling with our breathing but with acclimatisation that went away.The moment which I will always cherish is running 10 km around the beautiful Pangong so at an altitude of 4200 metres. Amrit managed me to teach me some photography skills with Gopro and has been persuading me to buy one. We would have tasted all types of cuisines - American, Korean, Chinese, Indian and Mexican dishes which was unexpected for me.
We were able to manage 17 km in the first 2 hours but the last stretch was the real endurance where I faltered. Amrit has captured the entire Ladakh Journey and is a magician who brings interesting perspective to his viewers. My quest to run fast is ongoing and journey to break into the sub two-hour mark is the goal.
I would be cycling the Deccan Cliffhanger, a 643-km race from Pune to Goa within 32 Hours which would be crazy and scary.In the entire history of the race. It would be the first attempt on a Tandem bike and a chance to be eligible for ride in the world's toughest endurance races, Road across America (RAAM). RAAM is a 4800-km race across the entire US stretch, which has a cutoff of 12 days.
Disability does not hamper performance and running and cycling can help us command equality and dispel the popular stereotype.In any field of activity,Your Performance is linked to your hard work and this holds true for the disabled and non-disabled world equally.
About Vineet Saraiwala
Vineet leads various projects with Big Bazaar, ranging from operations, analytics, HR and Project Management.He is an alumnus of the prestigious Indian Institute of Management,Bangalore (IIM-B) and currently resides in Mumbai. He is presently working on a project "Sabke Liye" which aims to make shopping accessible to everyone irrespective of race, religion,Income or disability. He hails from Jamshedpur and looks for a deep sense of meaning in whatever he does.His interests lies in reading non-fiction books, trekking, cycling, running, eating and spending time with his family.