Virat Kohli's running revolution, the NEB one8 Run, draws stellar cast
Some who were rescued from depression by it, some who rediscovered the thrill of life through it and some whose identities were always framed by running - the ‘one8 Run’ will provide a meeting point for India’s entire running community.
A bureaucrat who has worked in the Prime Minister’s office, a kidney transplant survivor who was turned away by fitness instructors because of the risk, an AIDS-afflicted youth who was turned away by his family, a 55-year-old man who has been running barefoot for the last 25 years, an Instagram content creator who wants to spread fitness through his page, a CEO who turned her back on her six-digit-salary job, a running coach and a former Olympian who twice outran the legendary PT Usha - the ‘one8 Run’ in Bengaluru has already drawn participation from a diverse field of personalities.
The country’s growing running fraternity is set to convene for the innovative run, which will be flagged off by Virat Kohli from Bengaluru's Nice Road on March 26.
The above mentioned participants might have little in common when it comes to their public identities, but they all have something in common - running is an integral part of who they are.
Ashwini Nachappa, the former sprinter whose lasting legacy remains outpacing PT Usha in the 1980s, has donned several roles since then - as an actress, a social worker, an educationist - but it is as a runner that she still thinks of herself the most.
“I am an athlete first. Because of athletics, I got offers for films. It gave me a job and recognition,” said Ashwini Nachappa, who has kept running even decades after her retirement.
Many other unsung heroes alongside her hold remarkable achievements through running despite having faced challenges throughout their lives.
“Running is the only thing that has given me an identity,” said 23-year-old Babu Seenappa, who has lived with AIDS all his life, having found his calling in running long distances.
“All my life, people have looked down on me. But because I run for the country as an ambassador for HIV-positive youths, the perception has changed. Running has defined me, it has given me a chance to show that I can run as far as any other person even with this disease,” he said.
“Running gave me a second life,” said the 27-year-old Aishwarya Jagadish, who found out that the graduation from a engineering degree to high-paying jobs at Deloitte and Goldman Sachs had left her life devoid of any adrenaline rush, and so quit to become a triathlete.
“I am a workaholic, so I used to have 16-hour workdays. I decided to direct that energy into building my profile as an athlete+model+influencer. I train for triathlons six hours ever day. The training is brutal - every drop of water is measured. But I have absolutely no regrets about letting go of high-paying jobs,” she said.
Shibani Gulati, 45, the only kidney transplant survivor from India to run half-marathons, owes a lot to running.
“I had lost hope in life after gyms turned me away after my kidney transplant, saying it was risky for me to train. I went into depression because not even gyms understand fitness in India. Running gave me the chance to do it myself. You’re not disabled by the disabilities you have, you are able by the abilities you have,” she said.
And then there are the marathon regulars who will test themselves.
Like Arjun Virdi, a 55-year-old running coach from Mumbai, who swears by the merits of running barefoot because his feet get swollen in shoes.
And Harinag SP, a 40-year-old running coach from the host city who finds his ‘me time’ in running.
All the runners have their individual targets from the event, but there is also another agenda for most of them - to run for those who cannot.
“Like Virat Kohli became a poster boy for cricket fitness, I want to be that person inspiring India’s bureaucracy to fitness. A huge change is happening regarding awareness about fitness within our circles,” said Shreyas Hosur, 36, India’s first non-uniformed civil services officer to complete an Ironman event.
Zumair Khaja, 29, said, “I want to inspire people to be fit through my Instagram profile. After the lockdown, a lot more people are interested in healthy living. I also run for raising money that goes into research for spinal cord treatment.”
When Shibani Gulati ran her first half-marathon after her transplant, she decided to have a special message on her short expressing gratitude to her kidney donor - her younger brother. ‘I am running because my hero decided to run with me’, the message said. The brother-sister duo will be running together come March 26.
Babu Seenappa will be running to inspire all HIV-afflicted people, for a friend of his who died and for a more aware future.
“It is through sports that I have learnt there is a future for all children living with HIV across the world,” he said.