This marathon coach wants disabled people to discover the joys of running
Among the star performers at the 2020 Tata Mumbai Marathon is Mumbai lad Varun Sawant. The 21-year-old has made history as the first person with autism in Asia to complete the full marathon of 42 kilometres. One person who played a key role in helping him achieve is Kaushik Panchal. A certified marathon coach, Kaushik hopes Varun’s success will encourage more disabled people to come forward and discover the joys of running.
“We can create more Varuns”. Kaushik Panchal can barely contain his joy and satisfaction while talking about Varun Sawant’s success in completing the 42-kilometre run at the 2020 Tata Mumbai Marathon. The 21-year-old is the first person with autism in India and Asia to complete a full marathon.
Enabling more disabled people to run
Varun’s success was enabled in large measure due to the faith and support shown by Panchal, who is a certified marathon coach and founder of Runners Academy. This is a Mumbai-based running club with five centres spread across Borivali and Kandivali.
Varun is the first student with autism that Kaushik had the opportunity to train.
I am so proud of him and if Varun can do this, so can other children with disabilities. After Varun many students with disabilities signed up to train at my centres and my approach is a little different. I train everyone in a group, regardless of disability and some parents are not comfortable with that. – Kaushik Panchal, Founder, Runners Academy
Varun’s parents were open to the idea of group trainings. Panchal trains disabled people for free. The only condition is that they are accompanied by a parent. “I meet with the parents either at their homes or at my centre, never in a public domain. This is because children with autism tend to be a little self-conscious and are comfortable in a place that is familiar to them or is a homely setting. It also give me an opportunity to check the child’s behaviour”.
Coach with an inclusive approach
If the child is accustomed to physical activity, he/she is taken on on a trial basis for three months. If inactive, they are asked to start on a walking programme.
“I tell parents to walk with their children for 45 minutes and send me details of the pace and time kept. This process is followed for everyone disabled or not. If the child can walk one kilometre in 12 minutes, then I know he/she is ready to start slow jogging”.
Panchal is getting calls from many parents with children on the spectrum. “These parents want me to train their kids in their society garden and in a group of children with autism”. Panchal is against the idea.”I don’t consider myself a coach for autistic kids alone. I want to promote inclusion”.
Panchal’s attitude is shared by many other runners in his academy. “There are any people willing to give up their own training to encourage people with autism and I am fortunate in that”, says Panchal, who has about 10 people willing to sign up a running buddies.
Kalpesh Sharma is among them. “I love the idea of running with a person with disability as I see it as an opportunity to change mindsets about people with disabilities. It also gives them a chance to come out of their homes and be a part of the larger society”. Ketan Apte agrees. A former member of Runners Academy, Ketan works as a trainer at another centre.
“I used to run with Varun in the initial days after he joined Runners Academy and I found his attitude so positive. Running has given him a certain level of confidence that people with autism typically lack”. Ketan hopes Varun’s success will encourage more people with disabilities to come forward. “I feel this is a great way to integrate people with disabilities in society”.
If you would like to know more about Runners Academy’s training programmes, you can WhatsApp +91 98210 26416.