This is the story of a woman who fought against asthma, the societal scorns and the downtrodden thoughts of the average majority. She stood against destiny which denied her a natural healthy life. Becoming an endurance runner became incidental after she decided to fight against the severe attacks of asthma.
In January 2011, she ran her first marathon and finished 15th in her category covering a 42-kilometre chase. This feat was followed up by an endurance marathon in May in Borneo, Malaysia. Mahajan ran 75 kilometres in the Bangalore Ultra Marathon later in November 2011.
“Sometimes I want to scream out to people about how much I have run. I’ve been able to cover distances in spite of weak lungs and a low immunity system” she says.
Her determination to become a long distance runner made her hold a National record for running 151 KMs in 24 hrs held from 2nd to 3rd December 2012.
She made it to the Limca Book of Records for running 1500 kms from Delhi to Mumbai in 30 days. When she started out, it took her 45 days to complete 2-3 kilometres. Eventually, she took took three months to hit the 10-km mark.
Highlights of the episode
- Her inspiration to become an endurance runner.
- Much surprisingly for myself, I was not tired after running for 42 KMs. I wanted to run more.
- I was always told I cannot do it. That just further pushed me to do it right.
Quotes And Takeaways
- Just follow your heart. You may or may not become an athlete. But if you try, you might reach somewhere in the field you love the most.
- Sports is the one place where you need to exhaust yourself.
- Education and literacy do not go hand in hand.
What inspired you to become an endurance runner? Was it any social challenge which you were confronting or your own inspiration to become an athlete?
I always told myself I have miles to go before I sleep. In October 2009 when I got married, as an effect of weather changes I started having a severe asthma attacks. I have been asthmatic since birth. Being a sportsperson, I needed my lungs to perform better.
My nearest option was to run in the 400 meter park of my vicinity. That was where it started. Ever since childhood, my father told me to stop not until my goal is reached. So I aspired to run a longer distance.
Running in the 42 KM race was incidental after that. I ran without any prior preparation and this was my very first experience. Finishing 15th in the category was a blessing for me as I had never been a professional runner. I just ran as per my thought process. My timings were not that great. I just wanted to reach the finish line.
What was the reason for you to continue running after knowing the obstacles ahead of yourself?
Much surprisingly for myself, I was not tired after running for 42 KMs. I wanted to run more. I asked the officials if I can run more. They said, “No ma’am it is only 42 KMs”. (laughs)
When you are born ill, something inside keeps telling you that after I do this, I feel that I have achieved something. I was always told I cannot do it. That just further pushed me to do it right.
How was the experience of covering 1500 KMs from delhi to mumbai in 2012?
Those thirty days were an eye opener for me. I saw India through the eyes of a woman. There is massive difference when you are on a highway and you go on a luxurious trip. This trip was absolutely at the ground level. I could see the state of affairs of education and illiteracy in our country. This experience made me see the realities of life.
Education does not always teach people to respect a woman. I was not treated well and I have been very upfront about it. It was a very big reality check. If the society cannot treat a woman well, then that society is not educated enough.
It does not work with the metropolitans, it does not work with having KFCs in the city or urbanization. We need to reach the grassroots to receive such an enlightenment.
When I crossed Akleshwar, which is an industrial city in Gujarat, there were women asking why I was wearing shorts. Many said, it’s all about looks for woman, as a woman I should not be wearing this – that I should be wearing proper clothes.
So education and literacy do not go hand in hand. Even people from major corporate houses scorned at my initiation. There are no washrooms on the highways – no single sanitary requirement for a woman. Woman infanticide is growing at a massive rate. All of this moved me to support NGO are rising for all such causes.
Is there anyone you lookup to as a women athlete?
Serena Williams and Venus Williams. I and my elder sister were a very strong doubles team in Punjab. When I started the run, my father, he told me that you don’t have to come back until you finish the run. For myself, it has always been about confronting challenges.
do you think being crazy has been an incentive for yourself?
It is good sometimes. But a lot of times it’s more like being crazy. My friends ask me, “Sumedha why can’t you be a little realistic rather than just jumping into crazy situations?” I would say the turmoil is more towards my husband and my parents. Every family requires to have a settled life. For myself, I had to dedicate myself to this. Hence I would say that the challenges and craziness, is more for them. I just am pursuing my dream.
In 2013 you confronted a problem of slipdisk which became a great hindrance for continuing your regular routine? Can you tell us about it?
I was suffering from lumbar spondylitis, the degenerative bone disease, which was compressing the nerve and leading to pain in my left leg; and the accident just brought it out in the open.I was just twenty-eight years old. I was already asthmatic, hadn’t yet had any children and now I had one more health issue to tackle.
In 2013, I could suddenly hear a click caused by my bones while doing yoga. When I went to the doctor I was told that the slipdisk was an affect of spondylitis. My only fear was whether I could ever run again. I was asked to take complete rest from running for the subsequent months.
Running is not a mainstream sport in India. How did you cope up with this situation?
Very recently, a female German fan messaged me, “Why did you do it? I feel so blessed that I was not born in India”.
We do not see the realities in the metropolitans. We see job opportunity, restaurants, clubs. My urge to run was a constant struggle for existence. There are no free lunches available in life. Even though I was running with a celebrities. No one supported.
I remember running outside IIM –Ahmedabad, when a woman commented, “Why are you running in the heat and dust after completing MBA? You can make so much more money”. That day I understood the reason why woman in our nation are being hindered from growth. They felt only the poor women play sports. And that is a fact as majority of the woman athletes from our nation are from a financially unstable background. Only very few come with strong finances.
Yet, all of this never stopped me from continuing what I am doing as I knew I’m pursuing my dream.
How would you try to advice a woman athlete?
Just follow your heart. You may or may not become an athlete. But if you try, you might reach somewhere in the field you love the most. You never know what life stores for you. You can have your own academy or you can your own personal coaching schools, you can even be a trainer. You need to exhaust yourself. Sports is one place where you need to exhaust yourself. At the end of the day it’s all about how you will survive with your dream.