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Kaustubh Radkar On How Coronavirus Has Left Struggling Indian Runners on Their Last Legs

Representative Image (Photo Credit: Reuters)

Representative Image (Photo Credit: Reuters)

Kaustubh Radkar on the effect of the coronavirus pandemic on Indian runners and triathletes as they rethink their career options.

Kaustubh Radkar is no ordinary man, he is the only Indian to finish the 25 Full Ironman Triathlon - which includes swimming 3.8 kms, then cycling 180.2 kms and finally a 42.2 km run all under 17 hours.

Yet when asked how he has been managing himself during the coronavirus pandemic, he says, "Just like everyone else. It has been a bit strange in the last four months. But fortunately, I maintained my fitness levels."

He has partnered with the likes of Abhinav Bindra (India's Olympic Gold Medalist), three-time Olympic Medallist Eliud Kipchoge, cricketer Shikha Pandey, Paralympic Games Silver Medallist Deepa Malik among others, to support the Sunfeast India Run As One, which aims to support Indians whose livelihoods have been affected due to Covid-19.

Kaustubh Radkar has been, in his own way, trying to help in this trying times.

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"We had our own initiative which we started in the month of May when we had tied up with an NGO, which dealt with migrants and we had done our own fundraiser. Since I was already involved so it was a no brainer for me to be a part of the initiative," Kaustubh told news18.com in an exclusive interview.

The Sunfeast India Run As One movement kick-started on India's 74th Independence Day with registrations being open till 11th September and has already completed, at the time of writing this article, 53,851 kms of the 5,52,717 kms pledged.

Kaustubh, who is the first Asian to finish an Ironman race on all 6 continents, and also became the first Ironman certified coach of India in 2015 and has been a national swimming champion, urged everyone to use this initiative to not only give back to society.

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"Obviously, we are in time where and as an athlete, whatever we can do and be a part of a larger social cause. The second thing is that Indian runners and triathletes have not been able to keep up with their routines. There is no event happening and there is clarity as well when the event will happen or not," Kaustubh said.

"I have been asked multiple times - 'What do I do? There is nothing to look forward to'. And there is this big platform till 13 September to actually start investing in our own health, start regaining the basic fitness and then slowly look to scale to whatever their goal might have been."

"Since the initial lockdown, a lot of people were not allowed to go out of their societies and not even allowed to go out and exercise. Not everyone had the luxury of having a bike trainer in their own home and gym, swimming pools have been shut. So fitness was affected. There's no doubt about it. Some were a little bit fortunate that they could actually do basic stuff to maintain the fitness levels," he added.

When quizzed how a virtual marathon is different from a regular 'real world' one, Kaustubh explains, "Like number one there is no crowd as in a regular race. When you are inspired and motivated by the people around you and at the end of the day, it is your friends and competitors that push you when you run."

"In a regular marathon event, every few kilometers you have stations where there are people who supply water and energy drinks. In a virtual event you will have to manage all that by yourself. These are the biggest differences other than that at the end of the day is running or whatever it is you have to finish it as it was any other day."

Sports Minister Kiren Rijiju on August 15 also launched the Fit India Freedom Run, a country-wide event, that will have participants run at their own place and pace at a time convenient to them till October 2."I think given what is happening with the pandemic is important to not only stay fit but keep one's immunity in check," Kautubh said, before adding, "It is great that our sports minister has encouraged running to help everyone stay fit, with him posting videos but it has to be a grassroot movement at the end of the day"

"It cannot be just people who have access to smartphones. My question is how are you getting everybody involved, including rickshaw walas, bus drivers and maids.These people are an important section of our society and we need to invest in their health. Most people don't understand the importance of exercise. So how will we get them involved. What can we do to get them involved in these runs. We need to find a solution to that," he added.

Kaustubh Radkar explained that for many athletes in the country, the pandemic has dealt a death knell for their career in sports.

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"There are athletes, who race for the money. All these running events that used to happen, they come mostly for the prize money. And a large chunk of their livelihood depends on it," Kaustubh explained.

"Now, unfortunately with these events not happening, they are losing out. Companies are also going to be very hesitant in sponsoring events as well as athletes, as everyone's bottom line has been affected. For example, Speedo, who completely dropped their swimming programme and even the country's top-most swimmer, Virdhawal Khade, his sponsorship was affected as well. There is no clarity and with this uncertainty that Olympians are losing their sponsorship, then ametuer who is wanting to be an elite, who needs the money- those are the people we are worried about," he added.

Kaustubh said that with a lot of runners coming from humble backgrounds and who generally don't have other means of sustaining themselves, they are rethinking their options.

"A lot of people are rethinking their career choice, maybe they need to find another job in this situation. I know certain runners who have had to be daily labourers. Running was primary for them that they did not invest in their education. And with events not happening and cash prizes not coming their way, they are starting to think what will happen," Kaustubh said.

"Companies need to step up with their Corporate social responsibility (CSR) to help these semi-professional and upcoming athletes who really do depend on running," Kaustubh urged.

Not only a world renowned athlete, Kaustubh is a practicing medical professional. When asked what his message is for regular individuals during the coronavirus pandemic, Kaustubh said, "Don't look at exercise as a routine but make it part of your lifestyle. There are thousands of benefits of doing routine exercise but the current situation has taught us the biggest benefit of people who are regular expressions is immunity. And if you have immunity, your likelihood of catching a disease is lesser. "

"Of the unfortunate one who have caught the disease, those who exercise regularly have recovered quickly and exercise also has a huge role in mental happiness as well. And a lot of people have had issues with depression, and there's a lot of negativity and an hour of exercise can really change your mood. So there is a good mental happiness factor that exercise brings," he added.