Thursday, November 01, 2007

The circus hits town.

About one day left for the run. I just finished preparing the drop bags. My parents were amazed at the amount of stuff I think I would need and would eat!

I take a breather before getting much needed sleep for the longest run of my life so far. I am thinking how much calories I would need. My coach Joe mentioned that in such ultra distances it finally comes down to eating right and eating well. So, I think about where and when I will have liquid calories. Where will I eat fruits? when will I have the 'pulav' ? This is complicated stuff. Fuel/food is the most important aspect that will determine how I do in this run.

I then think about relaxing..browse websites..ok..lets see...whats this - 'Invisible half' ?
In a country where the stock markets see unbelievable growth rates, one child in every two goes hungry.

Hmm...how firvolous can I be! For one day I am worried about getting food in at the right time. There are kids out there who wake up every day hoping for at least one meal that day. Here I am worried about running, about eating right etc. and there are people out there dying out of hunger. My concerns or worries about 'me' melt away. But, my heart becomes heavy in realizing that how helpless millions of people in India are. You might call it romantic idealism, foolish dreams or a plain waste of efforts. But, I think the underlying truth is we run to grab attention with the hope of diverting it to much needed awareness about socio-economic issues and asha's efforts.

As the touring circus hits town this weekend, please take time to read about India's underprivileged ...

Poverty and mainstream media
Indexing Humanity
The breakdown of the Public Distribution System in India

Asha Austin supports a number of projects which work towards equipping communities with skills to earn a living of their own. In certain other communities our project partners strive to use the 'Right to information' act to enforce the implementation of government policy (such as NREGA - National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) for poverty alleviation.

Prajnalaya - vocational skills to promote employment opportunities

Banyan - vocational skills to promote employment opportunities

Shristi - vocational skills to promote employment opportunities

Siddamma and Bharathi Trust - Social activism to empower communities to demand correct implementation of government policies

Nandlal and Lok Samiti - Social activism to empower communities to demand correct implementation of government policies

Thursday, October 25, 2007

10 days to 100 miles.

So, here it is - the culmination of a long tiring season. We have been training through the summer and fall for this one - Our first 100 mile run.

Preparations are under way. This will be a self supported run with no AID station volunteers. Which means we will prepare our own 'drop-bags' at different locations to keep stuff we would need in the run.

Bandera is a nice little texan town. Its got quite a bunch of hills in the Hill country state park. Thats where our run will be at. It will be four 25 mile loops. The cut-off is 36 hours. We would be running through the night to get within the cut-off for the course.

The longest we have run - by time : 24 hours at grand canyon, by distance : 50 miles.

So, this is going to be a first in many ways. But, we will have friends and family to support us. We have reserved a Cabin and are planning stoves, tents etc. at the campsite. Thanks to wonderful friends we are even having pacers. Well, its our chance to get pampered and we plan on making full use of it!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Irulas, Bharathi Trust and Siddamma.

I have been fortunate to learn about this effort over the last few years. Every day I am amazed with the efforts and the work Bharathi trust undertakes. The unflinching determination and commitment inspires me to contribute whatever I can.

Siddamma is a grassroots volunteer with whom I have interacted a lot and been in constant touch over the last year. She was also in the US recently. Amongst other recognitions, she has received the Outlook award from Sonia gandhi and US state dept recognition as one of the 'Heroes in ending modern day slavery' for her work in releasing bonded irula laborers in Red hills, Tamilnadu.

Here is her story

Here is a talk given by her in Seattle.

BBC article on her work.

Bharathi Trust is the organization started by Siddamma and has been supported by Asha for long. The many aspects of Asha's work with Bharathi Trust and Siddamma are captured at
Irulas
Fellowship and Resource Center
Freedom
Tsunami

Gnanodaya

This is a residential school started by an association of Leprosy affected people. The motivation of the school is to provide opportunities to the Leprosy affected and their families. The integrated school also has children from underpriviliged backgrounds. The school while providing opportunities for the families of the leprosy affected, fights the stigma and misconceptions associated with the disease. Asha supports some of the running expenses of the school.

Leprosy - Facts


Leprosy in India -
http://mohfw.nic.in/kk/95/ik/95ik0101.htm
http://www.indiatogether.org/2006/aug/hlt-leprosy.htm

Mrs.Padma Venkatraman is an ardent social worker. She has been volunteering to help and sustain colonies for the lerosy affected from 1989. She had worked with colonies in Delhi. She is the contact person for this project and has been working with the St. John's Leprosy Patients Rehablitation Association for a while now.

Here is a BBC Article

Asha's Gnanodaya project page

Sunday, October 14, 2007

The role of education in the struggle for rights.

This weekend we had a wonderful event 'Show of Hope' in Austin. The idea of the event was to get the community of Austin to come out and express the different talents they have. We have videos that we played at the event. They give a general idea about Asha and the event.

As part of the 'Writing' category I had submitted an entry. The judge did not award me a prize, But I did have fun participating in it! Here is my entry that most folks were asking me about -


The Role of Education in the Struggle for Rights


I sat down to write on this topic and realized that I actually have a lot of questions. I might not be able to go far without getting those answered. The first step was to understand what education meant in a universal sense.
Webster defines education as the process of educating or teaching. Further, educate is defined as “to develop the knowledge, skill, or character of”. If we try to further define the words ‘knowledge’, ‘skill’ or ‘character’, the meaning of education gets more debatable. In fact, the meaning of education is probably one of the most controversial and time old problem we have had. Socrates believed that education was about drawing out what was already within a student. Based on this definition, one would call learning to use a spoon to have soup the last thing that would count as education. But, what is education might depend on who chooses to define it, in what context its imparted, the teacher and the student. Lets just change one variable in our example - the student. If the student were autistic and aged 28, learning the basic skill of having soup with a spoon could actually build confidence and promote a cascading effect on cognitive development. So, isn’t the exercise bringing out what the student already had within? Universal education might be a goal for many nations, but are we really sure if the meaning of education is universal? Is education actually defined by the complex beliefs arising out of values and experiences of the person defining it? What are the chances that a professor in IIT Kanpur, a high school teacher in a government school in Kanpur and an old farmer in a nearby village in India give the same answer for their perception on education?

Thankfully, history has been a wonderful teacher and I didn’t have much problem understanding what struggle for ‘rights’ meant. Almost every day, many souls of the human race have made it pretty clear that not all humans are really human after all. They call it ‘culture’, ‘way of life’ or just ‘law of nature’ – some in the human race deserve what they get because they were just born that way or born in the ‘wrong’ place or family. For every form of inhuman discrimination that exists, history has shown that a call for emancipation of the suppressed follows. My next hurdle was in understanding what role education plays in emancipation. The best way I could understand this was to actually work through some real life issues related to discrimination.

In every aspect of life and work, there passes hardly a day without the bias for gender. So ingrained is this bias that it has seeped into the very essence of how 'man' communicates. But, to address our goals, I would like to take a more straightforward example of 'dowry' in India - a practice of giving money and gifts to a bridegroom for accepting a bride. This basically reinforces the prejudice that being a woman is a liability and the 'owner' needs an incentive. As the practice grew stronger and prejudices thrived through the years, the sex of the child being born started determining whether the child would live or not. When the practice of female infanticide driven by pressures of dowry came to light, mainstream media was quick in pointing out the 'backwardness' and 'lack of education' in the rural masses. Very true indeed. But, do we proclaim that doctors, engineers and many professionals from various walks of life are as uneducated and backward when they claim dowry from their brides ? Does holding a doctoral degree necessarily mean education, leave alone 'higher education' ? Female infanticide is a thriving business for a multitude of doctors in the cities. Selective abortion by scanning for girl children is after all a more 'educated' approach!

Martin Luther King Jr. on the 'Purpose of Education' mentioned "We are prone to let our mental life become invaded by legions of half truths, prejudices, and propaganda. A great majority of the so-called educated people do not think logically and scientifically. Even the press, the classroom, the platform, and the pulpit in many instances do not give us objective and unbiased truths. To save man from the morass of propaganda, in my opinion, is one of the chief aims of education. Education must enable one to sift and weigh evidence, to discern the true from the false, the real from the unreal, and the facts from the fiction". Rosa Parks' education played a critical role in her decision to not give up her seat on December 1, 1955. Makes me think if it was education for the world through this simple act of defiance. Well, at least to some of the world. Racism and bias based on color still runs through the very fabric of society. For instance, consider the much touted 'Fair and Lovely' cream or the more recent 'Fair and Handsome' product made in the state of the art 'scientifically advanced' labs. If we were to ask the superstars in the advertisement of these products about their views on racism, I am sure we would have such a passionate response on how unfair and backward the entire notion is. They would further stress on how important it is to 'educate' the masses on these inhuman biases. Then, it would be time for their photo shoot and time to get back to displaying the million dollar 'fair' faces to proclaim that being light skinned is the way to be successful and attractive.

One can spot a woman or a person's skin color in a crowd and discriminate against them blatantly. But, just looking 'normal' or being 'normal' doesn't always save one from prejudices. Its amazing how sometimes discrimination can occur in such fine granularity that even the thought that we all might look, eat and live alike doesn't matter. One can be condemned to a life of subhuman existence just by virtue of her or his birth. Welcome to caste based discrimination in India. Caste is described by Oxford Dictionary as "each of the hereditary classes of Hindu society, distinguished by relative degrees of ritual purity or pollution and of social status" and as "any exclusive social class". So, rigid and ingrained is this system of calculated discrimination that changing religions does not save you from being spotted as an inferior being. Over centuries, generations of dalits and lower caste communities have been systemically sidelined. Even touching someone from the lowest caste or coming in close contact was considered highly 'impure'. Horror stories abound - not just in the hundreds of years of history but, every day till date. Again, the idea that such a systemic discrimination occurs is very easily ignored or refuted in present day India. We are oblivious to its endearing presence in every aspect of our life. Marriages happen only within one's own caste in the garb of 'preserving one's culture' or 'compatibility'. The judiciary system, the administrative system or the 'creamy' strata of society seldom sees a deluge of the suppressed castes. Yet, our young 'educated' minds striving to make a world of their own contend that 'merit' and not affirmative action should decide opportunities for the oppressed. So called 'struggles' occur to reclaim respect for 'merit'. What is 'merit' ? Do we believe that people who are born in a higher caste are 'meritorious' by birth ? Can enjoying the unspoken privileges of being in the 'upper caste' and higher echelons of society give one the right to talk about merit? Stereotyping and generalizing people from a particular caste comes rather naturally to many folks in society. Isn't attributing lower 'merit' to the underprivileged caste implicitly espousing stereotypes ?

The concept of discrimination probably is more universal than the meaning of education. While I only started with a few examples, there is much more to discrimination. The disabled seldom get the rights they deserve. A curable and controllable mental ailment might still disenfranchise an individual. The rights of indigenous tribes and local inhabitants are gone with the dust when huge projects displace them. Is it surprising that these projects almost always make communities which own the least sacrifice all that they have for the greater common good? Who then is further in the process of education ? The indigenous tribes who learned to live in tandem with nature over centuries in a sustainable way or the intellectuals who wanted to meddle with nature to only fail every time.

As I tried understanding what 'struggle for rights' meant, I couldn't help but notice that almost always any change in the socio-economic situation of a deprived community is in fact a 'struggle'. Almost always, it boils down to basic necessities that most of us reading this piece are privileged to have. So, in essence bringing about a socio-economic change is a struggle for rights. Even so called benign acts of providing basic schooling for underprivileged children is a struggle. Whatever happened to the 'Right to Education' in India ? So, I still ponder at the end of this piece on what education means and more specifically how it influences emancipation.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Grand Canyon

Its been a while since I have written a report on a run. But, this one was special. Like my coach Joe says "There is something about these ultra distances. People think differently and even appreciate things they usually don't". Here is my appreciation for the world around me. I have made an attempt to give you not one but two stories. There is no comparison between the two and thus this write up in no way is intended to trivialize the amazing effort thats NOT about Grand Canyon.

What lies beneath
Starting in the dark
The Sun rises
Survival
Going back home
Memories and more

What lies beneath

The Grand Canyon is located in Arizona and stretches to Colorado. Its 18 miles wide (By accessible trails its between 20-24 miles). At average the Canyon is 5,000 ft deep. The Grand Canyon is 227 miles long. The Canyon takes up 1,218,376 acres of land. The Canyon is on a tilt the north rim is 1200 ft higher than the south rim. At the deepest part of the canyon is 6,000 vertical feet. The Canyon’s walls are made up of rocks, cliffs, hills, and valleys. The Grand Canyon rocks were formed millions of years ago. Three thousand to four thousand years ago desert archaic people lived in the Grand Canyon. The Pueblo Indians built adobe house around the canyon and made animal figures out of one twig. The Hopi Indians believe that when they die, their spirits emerge here and rest here. There are 75 different species of mammal, 50 species of reptiles, 25 species of fish, and 300 species of bird living in the Canyon.The south rim of the Grand Canyon is a grayish green forest. Inside the Grand Canyon is 30 degrees higher then on rim. Rain comes suddenly in violent storms (usually in late summer).

Chennai is one of the largest metropolitan areas in the world. Its one of the four metropolitan cities in India. What lies beneath the urban sprawl, the vibrant economy, the cultural potpourri and the long history of the city is something thats invisible. Battered, bruised, brutally abused, both physically and sexually, ignored by everybody, eating out of garbage bins and with no place to call home. This is the situation of homeless women with mental illness. World Health Organisation [WHO] estimates that 1% of citizens of all countries are mentally ill. National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences [NIMHANS], Bangalore says that one woman in six and one man in nine will be in need of help. While men in India tend to be cared for better, women are set adrift. Many of them drift away from as far as northernmost India to a land that doesn't speak their language. They get on a bus or a train and being ignored by the sea of people, they arrive wherever the train takes them. In Chennai they are invariably found within a two kilometer radius of the Central station. They could be brushed away as pan handlers, demented drug addicts or just ridiculed for their appearance and behavior. In most cases they just blend into the background. Thousands walk by to home, to work or to do groceries every day and yet the underprivileged don't exist. This is as much a story in chennai as the story of many of the mentally ill destitute who are neglected and abused in many cities around the world.

Back to Grand Canyon

Starting in the dark

I had arrived at Williams, a quaint little town 1 hour from the Grand Canyon on Friday. My parents are visiting the US and this gave me time to take them around. It was a lot of fun with an 'old west' set up, the famous 'Route 66', The Grand Canyon Railway and other such interesting places. Around the evening was when the rest of the gang (Arun, Padma, Ganesh, Gaurav and Vinod) arrived. On their way to Williams they came to this 'brilliant' conclusion that instead of getting a few hours sleep in the night, we should start right away after dinner. I kind of reluctantly agreed even as my clueless parents were wondering what happened to the son they once knew! After some wonderful pasta, rice, fruits and a hearty dinner we left for the Grand Canyon. It was windy and cold at the top. We were all wrapped up. By the time we found the restrooms, the trail head and finally started it was 1:00 AM on Saturday morning. We ran down the bright angel trail through Indian gardens. Within less than a mile into the run we started feeling warm and the coat, full sleeves, gloves etc. became a burden. We were quite chatty through the run. We even got reprimanded by an old lady near a campsite for being way too loud. But we were quite slow through all this. We reached the Colorado river only after 4 odd hours (for about 9.6 miles). The roar of the river under a bright full moon night was surreal! The moonlight shined on the walls of the canyon waking me up to the wonders of this creation. I ran for a while without the lamps and it almost felt like I was a passive observer, letting the world be without disturbing a thing. Then we came to the bridge. We had to cross the Colorado to get to 'Phantom Ranch' on the other side. Heights are not my thing and I felt the bridge was swaying for a long time. I just held on to the sides and walked slowly.

In 1993, one woman was dashing into the traffic on Haddows Road Chennai. She was obviously mentally ill, half-naked with matted hair. She was an eye-opener to India's nowhere people. The nobodies that no one wanted to acknowledge existed. It started as a kneejerk response to a responsibility that no one was willing to take up. As people either gawked or walked on, two young women hugged her and took her to their college nearby. They cleaned her, clothed her and calmed her down. When they tried to find an organisation in the city that would take the woman in, they realised how hard it was to find one. It was a defining moment. A moment when Vaishnavi and Vandana decided they can't wait any longer. The two close friends were both 22 years old then -- they had made a pact with each other while still in their teens, that they would qualify as professional social workers and dedicate themselves to service. They now knew they had to act right away. 'The Banyan' --their vehicle of expression-- was soon registered as a Trust. When the girls went around looking for a home to house mentally deranged women people nervously closed their doors. Finally a serving officer in the armed forces let out his house. And the two young ladies moved in full time. At 'Adaikalam' ('Refuge') Vaishnavi and Vandana soon had 9 inmates --and growing-- but little money. There is a moving picture of the two young girls in the Indian Express of Aug 15, 1994. They had 'Gruff' their Doberman plus hope that help would come in. But life was hard.

Back to Grand Canyon

The Sun rises

After an extended break at Phantom ranch where we dropped off some stuff to reduce the load we were carrying, we headed out to 'Cottonwood' on the North Kaibab Trail. We were carrying a lot of food - fruits, pulihara (tamarind mixed rice), sandwhiches, energy bars, trail mix etc. We also had emergency stuff and gear with us. So, the camelback was quite heavy. Padma was having some trouble holding food and some of us were tiring out from sleep deprivation. We took some time to recoup and sufficiently woken up from sleep we headed out at around 6 AM from Phantom ranch. This was a slow incline that was supposed to take long. We kind of ran any flat or downhill sections we chanced upon. Then the most wonderful thing happened. Vinod, Gaurav and I had pulled on in front and there seemed to be more light as we were running through the belly of the Canyon. We had switched off our lights. Thats when we saw the tips or peaks (if you could call them that) were being dipped in gold! The sun was coming out in all its glory and the canyon basked in it. We started observing the surroundings more. The layers of rocks on our side were millions and millions of years old! This was when the cameras were working overtime. We also went through some scenic waterfalls. We reached Cottonwood. A ranger out there started chatting with us as we waited for the rest of the gang. He seemed to question what these crazy folks were doing. It was more of an interrogation to see if were stupid or insane. After taking a few more photos we left for the North Rim. This was the toughest stretch of them all! 7 grueling miles of crazy elevation. It was a long slow walk as the majestic sun turned into a ruthless dictator. The fall colors and more amazing sights followed. Notable among these was the roaring springs waterfalls. But, we were out of breath for a different reason! We wanted to keep a steady pace as we ambled along in front. Meanwhile, Arun decided that the elevation was getting worse and it was not a good decision to try it out without enough training. So, he went back to cottonwood. We watched the amazing pine trees on top of the north rim as we got closer to it. But, the closer we got the further it seemed on the trails! At every short break I was zoning out. I didn't want to stop anymore. I trudged along with just the immediate goal of reaching the top.

Once they had Rs.3.50 (1$ = Rs. 40) to feed 13 people that day. Sandhya Rao reported in 'Frontline' two year later: "Eighty women in five rooms is not easy in the best of circumstance. The matter is worse when a majority of the residents come with a history of all manners of sexual abuse, physical abuse, disease, no hygiene, no socialisation and of course lice." She adds:"one of the women had fever and was crying like a child and another begged and begged to be taken to the bus stop, but which one or where she could not say. A third begged to be excused if she had asked too many questions and a fourth demanded all my attention." It is with such wards that Vaishnavi and Vandana have spent their lives --24/7, to use that expressive number-- for many years since they began in 1993. Vaishnavi answers a question: "Yes, it was grim at times. We would have washed them, fed them, cleaned the floors, the latrines and finally settled them. It'd be close to midnight when we shut the door of our little room. And the banging would begin!" But quitting never occurred to them. That was what they had chosen --and were happy-- to do. Soon Ashok Kumar, a young man came on board to help. And material help began to arrive too. Banyan does not just accept women who arrive; they publicize everywhere their willingness to accept. Most women are manic depressives or schizophrenics. Many have lost their sense of dignity or ability to care any more. They are ridden with lice and maggots. One was found eating dog shit. Banyan races to gather them and bring them over. They are given first aid, a make-over wash and if necessary a trip to the hospital. Luckily most cases can be treated with medication-- reinforced with add-ons like a sense of belonging, security and feeling wanted. In about six months they are normal again and begin to ask to go home. Hope is forever resurgent.

Back to Grand Canyon

Survival

As soon as we reached the North Rim we were craving calories! I didn't speak a word. It was real cold. But, even before I got the coat out, I got the pulihara (mixed rice) and started hogging! A banana later I was still hungry. But, I was not moving anywhere. It was cold and I felt unusually lazy or just tired. Thankfully Gaurav and Vinod were still in their senses and planned to get to a restaurant or canteen to get more food. We were desperate and had to hitch a ride. Thanks to a couple of caring girls we got a ride to the Restaurant. I had some pizza and hot chocolate. As Gaurav and Vinod got sandwhiches and packed more pizza for Padma and Ganesh, I stole a nap for few minutes. That really helped! We got a ride back to the North Rim and this time I chatted with the couple who gave us the ride. We explained how crazy we were and kind of scared them. Nevertheless they were nice people who gave us a ride as soon as we asked! We met Padma and Ganesh just in time. We didn't give them much time to rest and as they ate the pizza we started moving down. Within a mile down from the North rim, I seemed to have got some energy from somewhere! The calories probably started kicking in! All of us picked up pace and I kind of started going fast. The downhills were the steepest we would be doing and I let myself loose. This was a nice fast stretch as I passed folks who were coming up while giving me weird looks! Soon, I was running by myself and at one point I took a rather difficult turn. I stopped for breath and peeped over the edge. I realized that it was a steep fall right to the bottom of the canyon! Inspired, I started going at a steady pace and reached Cottonwood at around 2:15 PM. Arun was waiting there. He had a nice break, dipped in the creek and was chatting with our favorite ranger. The ranger was very helpful and gave food, tips and entertainment! The rest of the folks joined. We kind of had a long break here. Padma was struggling a bit and it was not her day. But, you can't expect the first Indian woman 100 miler to give up! She was smiling through all of this and I felt inspired. We left for Phantom ranch. Again, this was a downhill stretch. In my mind I knew there was just a long walk back home left. So, I wanted to fly on this one. Most of this stretch was in the shade of the Canyons and it felt very good to run. A bunch of hikers even cheered me as I mowed along to Phantom Ranch. Gaurav and Vinod were not too far away and joined me in a few minutes.

Slowly help started flowing for the Banyan. The state government recognized their effort and gave them a piece of land. The Banyan struggled to make a permanent home to guarantee the survival of its residents and the organization itself. Today the building bustles with activity. A cheerful staff handle the various tasks. There is nothing melancholy about the place. Their cheer is infectious. Communication, documentation, fund raising, house keeping, public and staff relations are all up to date arts. The brisk efficiency marks it out as a new generation service organisation. They passionately defended the system of sending medicines by post to all the rehabilitated former residents of The Banyan across the country. Deep down however, they realised that The Banyan after care system was flawed in scalability and viability. That valuable realisation matured The Banyan overnight from a service provider to a solution finder. The Community Mental Health wing of The Banyan took root. Till date they have found it impossible to say 'no' at The Banyan to people who have no other options. With The Banyan's population explosion came the realisation that growth didn't mean seeding more Banyans.The bigger picture that took shape with the various Outreach Programmes was missing the vital jigsaw bit - more people. More involvement. More responsibility. The Dial 100 Helpline - became the branch of The Banyan that showed the way ahead. The Banyan promises long term financial sustainability with a CafĂ©, Organic Spa, Crafts & Clothes Boutique and village tourism. The Spice Route is backed by Socially conscious organisational supporters of The Banyan mission and run by spunky members of Vizhuthugal - The Banyan self-help group of recovered residents. “The Zero Inventors” - eco products made from recycled waste are going to be added to the vocational products unit. Research is finally coming into its own at The Banyan Resource Centre. Physicians and therapists are on call. Banyan uses an eclectic bouquet of treatments to bring their wards --they call them 'residents'-- back to this world. They use occupational activities, performing arts, picnics, pranic healing and whatever else that shows promise. And of course loads of love and patience. Beyond all that of course looms drug therapy. Drugs may be required life long and it is Banyan's policy to reach supplies to wherever, forever. In about six months, most residents are well and raring to go home. They beseech Banyan that they be taken at the earliest.

Back to Grand Canyon

Going back home

It was evening by the time we reached Phantom Ranch. We were hoping to get some food from the small restaurant there at the bottom. But, they were strict and followed rules of serving only those who reserved. So, we had no choice but to plead for some coffee from the girl at the window. The coffee was too good though! We emptied all the food (fruits, sandwhiches etc.) we had and ate our full. While we waited and recuperated, Vinod and I made calls back home to let everyone know that we will be back later than expected. Yes, somehow we thought we could do it in 17-18 hours. The Canyon whipped us bad and made us respect it! We had a nice conversation with a girl who had come down from cottonwood to see the river. She seemed to suggest that she needed company back to cottonwood. On any other day I might have relented :) But, I had folks running with me and my parents waiting for me at the hotel. As the sun came down, it seemed like someone pulled the batteries out of us. We all were kind of lazy and started drearily on the way back home. The drop bag was not where we had left it. So, Vinod and I went back to get it. After some explanation to the ranger and pleading ignorance on the fact that we were not supposed to leave it in the campsite boxes, we got the stuff loaded our camel backs and soon joined the rest of the gang. This time the bright angel trail was pretty dark and the moon was not too bright. It was a long haul especially after more than a day without sleep. Padma and Arun were struggling a bit. Soon each one of us were going through cycles and I was hoping to pep things up. I wanted to get back home soon because I was not sure if the message went to my parents. I started kind of tagging the group by running ahead. Soon I realized that I was not helping out much with this. So, after Indian gardens I decided to stick with the team. Meanwhile, Gaurav went up ahead. Each time we took a break to sit down I wanted folks to be fast and moving. Its a dangerous trap. Once you sit down, your eyes close and the tiredness in your body and mind takes over. So, though all of them hated me for doing this it did help in moving forwards finally. After 23.5 hours of run/walk/hike across the depths of the Canyon we were finally back at the top of the south rim at 12:30 AM on Sunday. This was the longest all of us have been on our feet (except of course for the limca book of records holder, Padma). This was quite an experience and nothing could beat getting back to the hotel (thanks to Vinod's driving) and having awesome fried rice cooked by mom!

The ultimate goals of the organization being rehabilitation and empowerment, The Banyan is an effort to reunite the women with their families and to help them reintegrate back into the mainstream society to be able to lead normal lives again.The rehabilitation aspect of The Banyan’s work has raised attention and controversy in the public for quite some time. Traditional communities in Indian society do not generally accept the unexplained absence of their female members for any length of time, the place of the woman being either behind the veils of the purdah or in the confines of her parents’ or husband’s house. Thus reintegration is an important aspect of Banyan's work. Typically two or three residents along with about four volunteers form the rehab party. With just that they set out for the rural maze of India's vastness. Here's a typical report: "the happy rehab team pressed on to Lucknow to try and locate Sapna's family. Once again they contacted the helpful Railway Police, but this time were in for a shock. The police discovered that Sapna was actually from Bihar, not UP. So the team moved on to Muzaffarpur and from there to Sugauli. The police accompanied them to what they hoped was Sapna's village, Basra. But no, there was nobody who knew Sapna. By then, the police were on the job, led by their helpful officer in charge, Mr. Singh. They discovered Sapna was actually from Lal Basra -- a village that was in the opposite direction to Basra! The team --now with an armed escort-- made its way to Lal Basra and began the arduous task of finding Sapna's family... the family had given her up as dead as she had wandered away over a year ago. Once more, happy reunion scenes and the satisfied rehab team left Lal Basra. After much palaver, the team decided to press on, and move to West Bengal, where they would leave Prabha Saha. A 12 hour trip to Jhargram, and the team was pleasantly surprised to find that Prabha remembered the place. She took the team straight to her brother's home. But unlike the other case, Prabha's family was not too sure about taking her back. After much consultation and debate, they agreed. Prabha too did her bit by announcing that she had every right to live in her family house. What made them take hope was a meeting with Das and his friends, who were so impressed with the Banyan's contribution that they planned to set up a social welfare organisation for that community.
(Note : names changed for privacy)

Back to Grand Canyon

Memories and more.

The trip to Grand Canyon and the run across and back was a memorable experience. You can see pictures from the run here. More than the pictures its the memories in my mind that I will carry for a lifetime.

The Banyan is a project supported by Asha Austin. We supported the vocational training unit which empowers the women with skills to lead economically independent lives. You can read more about the Banyan and our support. A video on the Banyan.

Here was my attempt to give you two stories. There is no end to these stories. They are really in parallel now. But, you sure can make them meet. As I train for the 100 miler in November, I look up to you. You can make the difference and support me in the endeavor to raise $10K to reach out to efforts like 'The Banyan'.

Back to Grand Canyon

Monday, September 24, 2007

Four runs.

Well there are four of us from Team Asha - Vinod, Ganesh, Gaurav and me who are training for the 100 mile run this year. This being my last while in Austin, we wanted to make this memorable :) - So, we decided to mix the training with some interesting running projects!

We took on 3 more popular tough trail endeavors - The Big Horn 50 miler, Pikes Peak Double - (Ascent and marathon up 8000+ ft elevation), Grand Canyon ( A rim to rim to rim run through the depths of the canyon for 44 miles and gruelling elevation) and culminating in Cactus Rose - the no support, on your own 100 miler!

You can read all about the races in the side menu titled 'The four runs'. The travel and runs across different terrains has made the experience surreal. Ironically I get to see the heart of the country in its plains, mountains, creeks, valleys, flower beds ...just when I follow mine out of here.

My parents visiting me, makes the whole effort memorable as anything I have been through! Its going to take some good convincing on my part to make my parents understand that its ok for me to do this - especially the running through nights etc. :)

Well at least I have to only deal with a couple - The Grand Canyon Run and the 100 mile. The other two projects are done and you can read more about it in our team blog

100.

The whole intent of this blog has been about running and how it can make a difference in terms of social issues and the empowerment of the underprivileged in India.

So, this year is no different from the previous years -

* I am fundraising for Asha and its going to be double the target from last year - $10,000
* I am going for a target race and its double what I did last year - a 100 miler.
* Its going to support a lot more efforts at Asha Austin - we have picked quite a few new projects - from supporting 3 projects three years ago, we have now grown to support 14 projects across India.

What does it mean to the underprivileged we strive for ?

To say that the marathon program or Asha's contribution made all the change would be an overstatement or just plain wrong. Organizations like Asha, AID etc. are nothing but tools. We are only a catalyst in the bigger picture. Having said that, the small efforts does open opportunities for the underprivileged we strive for - be it education for kids, employment for young adults, empowerement for the disabled or rights for the forcibly suppressed. The efforts of our project partners have been ably supported. This is evident in the success stories mentioned in our project pages over the years.

Every mile we add on, every dollar we raise, every individual we reach out to makes a difference.

What does it mean to me ?

Running is a passion and as I had mentioned in my earlier posts, without a soul for this passion it means nothing to me. I need your support to keep the flame in the soul going!

What did I do in the break ?

Right after my 50 miler as I had posted earlier I visited a lot of projects and was overawed at what the small efforts from our end at Austin could achieve. A detailed account of my site visits, updates from projects and the wonderful efforts our project partners undertake day in and day out is mentioned on our project pages. I have also blogged the experiences here.

I have video footage of my visits to some of the projects. Please feel free to contact me if you would like to know more.

What are the future plans ?

Yes, I do have some plans! I hope to spend a lot more time with all these grass roots efforts when I go back to India. I also hope to work with more such groups and learn from them. I wish to make myself more useful.

I am back and also going back!

Its been a long while. I am back from my self-imposed exile from blogging. The excuses are the usual, but none convincing -

1. Work
2. Life

Many major happenings in my life. I have decided to return home to India. Being with family and doing what I want to do better at home made more sense than being in the US. My stay here has been eventful and for the best part life changing. I met so many good souls and made great friends. The thoughts and interactions would guide me through life. This has been a home away from home.

I could go on and on about my experiences and life in the US. But, the point is nothing really changes! I am going to be in touch with the same friends, will be doing the same work for my team and will still be blogging the same things!

A few things I look forward to - the trails, creeks and just the oneness with nature in India, meeting people, family and friends and to follow my heart in doing things I want to do.

A few things I will miss - running the trails in america, the creeks, sunset and rise in greenbelt, those runs and moments with people who are family now!, the liberty of visiting and spending time with friends here...

Ya..I am not good with the 'sentimental' stuff. So, will stop here!

Monday, February 19, 2007

Team Asha Rocks Austin! - Part IV

Hi All,

Here is the fourth part! This is not the last long email you will have to endure because we might have one more of the 'Team Asha Rocks Austin' series after Sunday.

I . Team Asha's Heroes
II. Asha Austin Meetings
III. Inspiration that humbles
IV. Race Day Info and funny moments

I. Team Asha's Heroes

Radhakrishna Gowrishankara
This is the third year for this Team Asha veteran. He is like the stuntman in the group. We can only watch and get entertained. But, dare not try it ourself! He probably does the least bit of training in the whole group! Its become second nature for him to just come out and run on 'race day'. Sometimes, he brings things into perspective and shows that it just isn't a big deal afer all. He is a dedicated Asha vounteer stewarding the Jigani school project with Asha Austin. On Sunday, this born athlete will inspire us all as he finishes the half marathon!

Rajiv Rammohan
With two young kids to take care of, Rajiv and Aparna already have a marathon life style! The rigors of work and family did not deter him from his dedication to the cause. He turned up for almost every training session, got involved with Asha by attending meetings and gave his all. Unfortunately, luck had its say at the end and he had to face a rather serious injury concern related to a 'stress fracture'. This got diagnosed rather late and he has been advised not to run for 2 months. But, he has almost reached his fundraising goal, will be out there volunteering and cheering for us all - a true hero!

Rathi Vijay
Not many of us would have seen Rathi often, as she lives way up north and for the most part trained on her own. She has amazing energy and enthusiasm for the team. She has almost reached her fundraising goal. Her efforts are truly inspiring. If we consider that she is doing this in spite of some serious health concerns that came up a while ago, I just am clueless to put in words her resolve and commitment to the cause. Her friends are travelling from all over the country to cheer her through the race. We are proud of what she is doing and all of us will be there to cheer this hero across the finish on Sunday.

Sanjay Tumati
Sanjay signed up and commited to run the full marathon with Team Asha. Unfortunately, he faced injury problems very early in training. He tried coming back to training after the injuries, but more injury concerns plagued his return. Finally, he had to drop out. But, I am sure that he is commited to the cause and we will most probably see him back with us next year!

Savitha Sridharan
Savitha, a returning Team Asha runner signed up and commited to run the half marathon with Team Asha. This is a rather busy time in her life both in terms of family commitments and work. She was out there to help all the runners through the initial ramp up. She has not been able to put in enough training and will not be there on Sunday to run. But, she will be there for the rest of the team. She has already decided to do the Dallas Half and given her dedication and commitment, I am sure she will reach the fundraising target too!

Shilpadhar Bharkam
Shilpadhar and his wife have a loving kid and the second one is coming soon! With obvious family commitments and work assigments, it would been easy to give up. But, he went through every training session with dogged determination! He was one of the few runners from Team Asha who trained with the intermediates. Unfortunately, a bad knee injury played havoc with his training. Massage, cortisone etc. did not help and the doctor finally advised him to keep off. Being the dedicated person he is, he will be out there cheering for us on Sunday and will be back running with us soon!

Sriram Sambamurthy
Sriram is doing his Ph.D at UT. I don't think I need to explain what it takes to be commited to a doctrate! Under all the pressure of school,conferences etc. Sriram still found time for Team Asha. His training did not go all too well with the India trip in December. One of the few marathon runners for Team Asha, he has swept past injury concerns and just decided to be with Team Asha and go the distance on Sunday. Its a story of true grit! A silent and humble person by nature, he doesn't talk a lot about the efforts he puts in and rather concentrates on the cause. On Sunday, Team Asha will be there in full force to back this wonderful runner!

Srujana Doddi
Srujana has crossed her fundraising target and is actually close to doubling it! Modest and soft spoken, she has silently made a tremendous effort in terms of both training and fundraising! She is one of the more improved runners in the team. She had a share of her own injury concerns, work assignments etc. that could have very easily thrown her off track. But, she stuck to being committed to the cause with a lot of determination. She has been prompt in her responses and was always there in every team gathering! She has given a lot for Team Asha and on Sunday it will be our turn to give!

Vijay Balasubramanian
Vijay had just moved to Austin, when he signed up to run the half marathon with us. His work in AMD does take a lot of commitment and odd hours. A new job, settling down in a new place etc. did not stop him from putting in hours of training with Team Asha. He blazed through in his fundraising efforts and is close to reaching his target. Unfortunately, an injury very late in the program upset all his plans. He has been forced to keep away from 'strain' for a while. But, being an energetic and committed volunteer, he will be there the whole day on Sunday to cheer us all. We all knew that this hero of Team Asha is not going away from us!

Vishvjeet
Vishvjeet is one of the few runners who signed up to run the full marathon. He was regular in training and was also doing the easy runs regularly. An urgent india trip and family emergencies messed his training schedule. When he came back, he had to face injury concerns and on top of that had already missed a lot of long runs. Its amazing as to how he has not let go in the face of these blocks and still decided to run on Sunday. After he discussed with the coach and physio, he decided to do the Half Marathon. On Sunday, as he crosses the finish line he will inspire the rest of the team to keep giving to the cause.

Vivek Shah
Vivek was running with Rogue. He couldn't resist the temptation to join Team Asha and joined us late in the training. He has already soared in his fundraising efforts and is close to reaching his target! He was regular with his runs and has been committed to the cause he has signed up for. He put an amazing effort in 3M and I am sure it will be much better at AT & T. As he mentions in his runner page, running is the most simple exrecise one can get and just comes naturally to some of us. It will be no surprise if vivek's natural instincts for running takes him to record times on Sunday! Team Asha is proud of this hero!

Go Team Asha!!

II. Asha Austin Meetings
Q. What is an Asha Austin Meeting ?
A. Its a weekly meeting of Asha Austin volunteers held every Sunday at volunteers' homes. We discuss different aspects of the organization - Projects/grassroots efforts, Social issues, treasury, events, fundraising, publicity etc. As you all know there is no hierarchy and its a flat organization. Anyone can call for an agenda item to be discussed in the meeting.

Q. What really gets discussed ? Can I get an idea of it ?
A. We try and post the minutes of every meeting we have on the website : http://www.ashanet.org/austin/index_min.html
Browsing through the minutes will give a fair idea of what gets discussed.

Q. I want to attend an Asha Austin Meeting. What should I do ?
Please let Sais ( saismaharaj@yahoo.com ) know. We will add you to the Meeting notice. We usually meet every Sunday at 2 P.M.

III. Inspiration that humbles
Athletes who did amazing feats, Individuals dedicating their lives to social causes, Individuals showing amazing resilience in leading a normal life given their backgrounds..and now what ?

A phrase often quoted by Coachji Vinod :

"I have met my hero and its me"

I don't have interesting links to post here. I don't have interesting stories to write here. Because, you have it in you already.

When you came into the info session on that day, it could have been very easy for you to turn away. When you had the doubt about reaching your fundraising target it could have been very easy to turn away. When you had that first injury it would have been so easy to turn away.

You are the inspiration that humbles us!

The one simple phrase you need to remember when you run on Sunday is "I did not turn away and will not".

Flashback from last year :
http://teamasharunner.blogspot.com/2006/02/last-words.html
http://teamasharunner.blogspot.com/2006/02/my-last-words.html

IV. Race Day Info and funny moments

Pacing
If you need help and want someone to run with you, please let us know. Also, if you know of friends who can run with Team Asha folks on Sunday, please let us know. Don't be shy, its your right :)

Let Vinod (vinod.2v@gmail.com) know.

After race Parties!
There will be refreshments at the Tent. So, please don't go away. We even have heaters in the tents to make you stay with us. Its an amazing feeling to have people cheering you on as you cross the finish line. If you finish early and can stand for a lil' more while, please do cheer our folks across!! We would also organize a Post race party the next weekend, when you can be better dressed!

Funny moments

With me around there is of course no dearth of it!

In the first year, I did an amazing feat of planting my car literally on a huge rock at 'The Rock'. All four wheels of my car was in the air. After almost half of Austin had a good laugh before I got towed out of that!

Our A+ coach, Gaurav was taking notes as Steve was giving suggestions to take care of his injury concerns. A+ was not happy and kept asking him questions - Finally, Steve volunteered to cut his legs off so that he doesn't have all these problems!

I am sure each one of us had a lot of fun through this program. We have memorable moments that make us feel happy. Try reflecting on it and Sunday will be a huge party!

If that doesn't help, try doing this runner stretch :
http://www.jibjab.com/jokebox/jokebox/jibjab/id/219836/jokeid/38553

Thanks,
Santhosh
(For Team Asha)

Team Asha Rocks Austin! - Part III

Hi All,

Here is the third in the series.

I . Team Asha's Heroes
II. Proposals to Asha Austin
III. Inspiration that humbles
IV. Dinner Reminder and Race Day Info


I . Team Asha's Heroes

Mansi Shah
Mansi was a 'roguette' before she joined Team Asha. She was inspired by the rest of the team to be a part of the effort. There was no way that we could have refused her enthusiasm! She has been holding on to her training well. The long distance that she has to travel for work, training and back home not withstanding she has been very regular for all workouts. She has 'blazed' ahead in her fundraising efforts and is really very close to reaching the target. On Sunday, I am sure it will be no different as she makes Team Asha proud!

Meghana Malur
I think I won't do justice to the amazing efforts she has put in without numbers! Being a student she had signed up to raise $400 and what has been her fundraising effort so far ? $3036 !! More than 7 times what she set out to achieve! She is Team Asha's Champion! I hope she accepts the invitation to give a lecture on fundraising to the next year's team. Her dedication and commitment to running was no different. She turned up to workouts regularly with the rigors of graduate school not withstanding! She has reminded everyone that crossing the finish line on Sunday doesn't mean a lot unless we fundraise.

Mihir Anandpara
Returning Team Asha Runner. Mihir's enthusiasm and energy has no bounds! He loves what most of us dread the most - Hills! In his own words its just 'insane' to be a part of Team Asha -BTW 'insane' means 'too good' :) An austinite for years, Mihir has been the mainstay of Team Asha for the last couple of years now. He is always there to help out the team - be it running or otherwise. On Sunday, he will be one of the few runners who go out to do their first marathon! We hope he gets all the hills he wants!

Mohit Sood
What chances would you give to a runner who gets injured twice - back to back ? Here is a marathoner who is going to inspire us to do our best despite what our mind tells us! Mohit had an injury early on in training and had to take time off to recuperate. Once, he was ready to get back to training, he hit shin splints! But, this time he was not taking 'NO' for an answer. Mohit again is going to be one of the few marathoners from Team Asha. It sure is going to be inspiring to all of us when he crosses the finish line on Sunday.

Murali Narasimhan
He works for 'Catalisis Health' and volunteers for both Asha and Vibha. His in-depth understanding of experiences working with projects, guides Asha Austin many a times. He has been actively involved with the 'Right to Education' bill and has been Asha's main resource person in this regard! Murali has been involved with the organization of the program as well. Thanks to his efforts we will have a lot of volunteers at the 'Asha' water stop on Sunday. He has been training at the North side location and has put in all the hardwork to be at the startline on Sunday.

Neena Richard
Neena has a full time job and a family with two kids to take care of! Many of us are worried about the time we can spare given all that we do. But, I have never heard her mention time as a constraint for anything. I am amazed as to how she wonderfully balanced a full time job, family and the training. She is one of a kind! Neena is also one of the more improved runners with Asha. She has come a long way from where she started out in terms of running. The sheer grit and persistence she has demonstrated for the rest of us, has inspired our team many a times!

Nivas Durai
The chances that you saw him running at the workouts is going to be slim, because he is most probably done already :) Though he is very modest about it, he is Team Asha's fastest runner ever. There is nothing wrong in being fast! He had again back to back injuries - Shin splints and then ITB issues when he came back to running. A lot of travel on the job didn't help a lot too. He came out to cheer at races and was always there for the rest of the team. There is no denying the fact that all of Team Asha is proud of him - not just for the 'lightning' speed, but for the amazing efforts he has put in for the team and in fundraising for the cause.

Praveen Kalamegham
Praveen is an active Pratham volunteer. He is one of the silent performers in Team Asha. His hetic work related travel schedule meant he couldn't turn up for a lot of workouts. This did not deter him from training on his own. He did a lot of runs at the places he travelled to. It really takes a lot of dedication and commitment to be able to train alone. The same qualities also reflect in his fundraising efforts - he has already crossed the target! We as a team truly do recognize his amazing efforts and humble silence! On Sunday, as Praveen crosses the finish line the whole team shall shout out for him!

Pritam Kulkarni
The first to reach the fundraising target! She was so fast that most of us hadn't even started to fundraise then! She had to do a lot of travelling to get to the workouts down south. But, she has been as committed to training as she was committed to the cause. She has already started making plans for her next goal - San Diego Marathon! We all know that she is for sure going to rock the 'Rock N Roll' marathon there. She is again one of the silent performers in the Team and has put on a sterling effort both in terms of fundraising and running!

Priyavadan Kumar
Sports and being fit is not new to him. Priyavadan is part of the Texas Cricket League and has also represented Austin in major matches! With crazy work schedules, visiting family etc. training did get a bit off and he also had to face injury concerns. He got back to steady running only last weekend and ably supported other runners doing the Surfside half marathon. Being a Team player is not new to him and he has been providing a lot of support and encouragement to the rest of the team. On Sunday, as he crosses the finish line, I am sure the rest of the team would give back to him!

Go Team Asha!!

II. Proposals to Asha Austin
What is a project proposal ? What questions do you ask a grass roots effort ? Proposals and documentation are very important aspects of how we work with a project - it furthers our relationship with the efforts at the ground and promotes transparency of our work.

Here is a sample proposal : http://www.ashanet.org/austin/projects/files/example.pdf

III. Inspiration that humbles
We have been inspired and humbled by amazing athletes and amazing lives of dedication to a cause!

Sometimes the whole idea of 'giving' / 'doing' creeps in a 'feel good' factor for those who do it. Did we really support an effort to feel good about supporting it ? or did we take the effort to see that the support did bring about a positive change in the lives of the people it reached out to ? Here are a few stories about a few lives that we touched - these stories are a source of immense inspiration and humbling too. The kind of odds they had to face to be here is not something we can easily imagine.

I state below from my own learning at Asha Austin :

Sheela from Seva Chakkara Samajam
Brought up in the orphanage, sheela always looked out for all the other children in the home. After graduating from her MBA, she had many options, but decided to give back to the organization. She is one of the main co-ordinators at the orphanage now.
(Details chanegd to protect privacy)

Asha Austin had supported the efforts of Seva Chakkara Samajam earlier - http://www.ashanet.org/nycnj/projects/scos.html

Shailaja from Prasanna Jyothi
Shailaja is in the last semester of her Engineering degree in Civil engineering, with the Bangalore College of Engineering. She is actively looking for jobs that will get her placed. She has similar interests and goals as any other student of her age, but she comes from a different background. She was raised in Prasanna Jyothi, one of the Asha supported orphanages in Austin.
(Details changed to protect privacy)

http://www.ashanet.org/projects/project-view.php?p=137

Stories from Banyan
There are amazing stories from the banyan that inspires us to take on life and contribute in whatever way we can - here are a few :
http://www.thebanyan.org/html/success.html

These are just few of the efforts that Asha Austin is involved with. There are a lot more inspiring stories in every project. I strongly encourage you to take some effort in going through the projects to learn more about the wonderful work they do!

IV. Dinner Reminder and Race Day Info

Today at 6:30 P.M is the Team Asha Pre-race Dinner! Please do plan on being there on time!

http://www.evite.com/app/publicUrl/santhosh.padmanabhan@gmail.com/ashadinner

Water Stop
Look out for the Asha water stop on the course. We will be at around Mile 5. Please don't plan on staying there for the party :) You will be amazed at what that Asha T-shirt can do for you when you get there ;)

Pankaj (510-637-8512) has been doing a wonderful effort in co-ordinating the water stop. If you have any questions let him know.

Cheering on the course
"Go Team Asha!!" you are going to hear this so many times that you are going to mumble this in your sleep!

Really, we plan to be of support to you in whatever way we can and make sure that we notice you! Its going to be a huge crowd on race day and as always make sure you stand out. I think it comes naturally to the Team ;)

The real plans could be a guarded secret from the runners!

If you have any questions please let Gaurav (650-450-3541) know. He has been pitching in with a wonderful effort to co-ordinate the whole cheering for the Team!

Thanks,
Santhosh.

Team Asha Rocks Austin! - Part II

Hi All,

Here is the second one! I have also added some important race day info that you need to keep track of.

I . Team Asha's Heroes
II. Phone Call to Siddamma
III. Inspiration that humbles
IV. Race Day Info

I. Team Asha's Heroes

Disclaimer: This effort is purely to introduce each runner to the Team and give a glimpse of their efforts. It might not bring forth all their sacrifices, troubles and splendid efforts.

Chandramouli Narayanaswami
Chandar's tryst with running started when he came cheering for the Team Asha's first year. He is a natural runner and did amazingly well right from the start. He liked to run races that raised funds for the underrivileged. His die-hard spirit and determination is sometimes astounding. His training didn't go too well, when he faced an injury at his peak. He was forced to take time off, but knowing his ability to bounce back, it would be no surprise to see him fly through the finish!

Charanya Ravikumar
Charanya works for dell, volunteers for Pratham, Austin Tamil Sangham, Omkara ..and I am not sure if there is an end to the list! Amazingly with all the juggling around of roles, she still managed to attend training regularly. What was even more surprising was that Charanya and Gayathri reached their fundraising target in just a few days after they started !! She seems to be setting an example for every aspect of the program!

Chirag Gandhi
One of the younger runners in the team. Enthusiastic and regular, he keeps the spirits alive wherever he is! His training has been progressing well and he did an excellent job of handling himself well through the training - i.e. not overtraining, going out too fast etc. He is always there to lend a helping hand to the team. For those of you who don't know, he did a half marathon at the surfside beach last weekend and looks like he is hungry for more!

Dhanashri Garud
Dhanashri is one of the earliest registrants for this year's program. She was really regular from the start (including the ramp up run) until she had to face the 'hip' injury. Then came the long India break and major happenings in life :). All the crazy schedules and injury did take a heavy toll on the training and she was forced to drop out this year. But, given her resilience we can surely expect to see her back again in full flow next year!

Divya Padmanabhan
Well everyone in rogue know her as the 'Girl who twisted her ankle'. On a dreadful trail run, she went down very early in the training program. But, she handled it real well and rested it enough to come back from injury in amazing form! She is again one of the more improved runners in the team. While, she is not saving $$ for AMD by fixing critical bugs or not running, she also volunteers time for Asha and other local community outreach efforts.

Dwarak Rajagopal
Dwarak is a regular in the gym and running was a new passion. He went through Team Asha's ramp up program, was regular in training and probably lost track during the holidays. Balancing a demanding work schedule, injuries and doctor visits takes a lot of effort. He has weathered through all these storms to stand strong at the start line. His enthusiasm, ready smile and helping nature makes him quite popular in the team!

Gayathri Bhandarkar
Dedication, committment and planning - She had all that and more! It was truly amazing as she kept on training regularly and knocked off long runs one after the other. The fundraising efforts deserve a special accolade! Balancing tough work schedules at AMD, she always did find time for the team and was prompt in responding to calls for help/information. Gayathri and Charanya are already planning on triathlons - well we all know that this duo will surely beat the odds in anything!

Itisha Tyagi
She is Team Asha's inspiration! The only girl from our team who trained for the marathon. She was dedicated and very regular in her training, yet the element of luck had the last say with her injury during the last stages. She felt so bad when she heard from the 'doc'/'coach'/'physio' that a full marathon was not going to be possible and she had to drop to a half. She is a hero and on Sunday she will remind us of what 'courage' is. There is no reason to feel bad, rather through this process she has inspired the team and the ultimate goal has already been reached!

Jinesh Karia
Jinesh almost bagged the prize for being the most regular from the ramp up program through the training. But, his marriage spoilt the track record :) Seriously, his commitment to the schedule helped him a lot and he is one of the more improved runners in the group. The last few weeks in India have been hectic for him and what did he do within a few hours after arriving at Austin ? Ya..he went out on a run! Watch out for jinesh as he puts in a wonderful effort on Sunday. A few records might fall!

Mahesh Subramony
He seems to radiate enthusiasm wherever he is! Behind all that constant entertainment lies a very serious effort that deserves special mention. Mahesh had health problems that stopped him from training full fledged from September. He started training only days before the Motive half. Yet, he walked, ran and trained through half marathons, runs in beaches of kerala and made it to the start line fit and strong. He ran a half marathon last weekend at 'Surfside' beach and he has more planned - simple things like back-to-back half marathons! He inspires us all with a truly amazing effort!

Go Team Asha!

II. Phone Call to Siddamma

Have you wondered how Asha Austin volunteers keep in touch with the efforts in India ? Obviously, we can't get a site visit done every month! So, we do tele-conferences and minutes of all calls are recorded on the project website - infact every correspondence and information regarding the project is recorded.

Sanjeev, long time Asha Austin volunteer co-ordinates the fellowship for Siddamma -
http://www.ashanet.org/austin/projects/siddamma.html

Here is minutes of a phone call made in May 2006 by him -
http://www.ashanet.org/projects-new/documents/579/up30may06.pdf

III. Inspiration that humbles

We talk about athletes who inspire us. We talk about amazing feats driven by respect to humanity. Yet, there are some other stories that just leave you spellbound, makes you question what you do - yet, spurs you on to do whatever little you can do are just willing to do...

Here are the inspiring stories of people we are close to, about lives dedicated to service ..

(Note: Each of these efforts are supported by Asha)

The story of Siddamma -
http://data.ashanet.org/datastore/data/Chapters/Austin/newsletter/dec05.pdf
(Written by Sanjeev Ranganathan - its the spotlight on our newsletter)

The story of Stanley and Parashu -
http://www.chennaionline.com/society/odanadai.asp

The story of Vandana and Vaishnavi -
http://www.goodnewsindia.com/Pages/content/outreach/banyan.html

The story of Nandlal -
http://www.indiatogether.org/2005/nov/soc-weaver.htm

IV. Race Day Info

Packet Pick-up: Friday 3-8 P.M, Saturday - 10 AM - 6 PM.
http://www.attaustinmarathon.com/events.asp?EventID=3

Please do remember to do it. DO NOT plan to pick it up race day morning - there are going to be thousands of runners and it gets crazy. You will also miss the wonderful expo! Its an experience on its own.

(PS: ONLY ppl in the north who find it too difficult to drive down, let your friends know or give Santhosh (512-431-5105) a call to pick it up for you)

Asha Tent: There will be a big Asha Tent between Congress and Brazos on 2nd Street. We will all meet there before and after the race. The tent will be open from 5 AM till everyone gets done. Please do plan to be there by 6:00 AM. DO NOT drop off bags at the tent. Instead, make use of the race organizer's drop off - its safer and less troublesome for everyone.

Thanks,
Santhosh.
(For Team Asha)

Team Asha Rocks Austin! - Part I

Hi All,

This is going to be a four part series of mails. Looks like there would be so many runners that it would become too long in one email. These emails give a glimpse into the indominatable spirit and amazing efforts of each Team Asha runner. So, please do read it.

I . Team Asha's Heroes
II. A day in Shristi Special Academy
III. Inspiration that humbles

I. Team Asha's Heroes

Anita Iyer
Anita is an enthusiastic Asha volunteer who helps the chapter grow in many ways. She makes wonderful use of her free time and volunteers for hospitals in underdeveloped areas in Austin. She is very humble about her running and even as she ran with us, was always worried about slowing us down! Her dedication and commitment to the cause is amazing! I am sure she is going to be silent about her sacrifices and troubles, yet finish in style on Sunday.

Anjali Deolapure
Anjali attended the first few training sessions with Team Asha. Unfortunately, due to a road accident her training didn't go as well as she would have wanted to. Further injury concerns forced her to drop out of the program. But, we all look forward to having her back with the Team next year!

Arun Radhakrishnan
Team Asha's DJ/Stand up comedian/entertainer/party host, Asha Austin's brain stormer, he takes on multiple roles with great ease. He has also been volunteering actively to help with the program and other responsibilities at Asha Austin. He had some ITB issues late into the training and is not in the peak shape he was at a couple of months back. But, he is prepared to take on the race on Sunday and in his usual style has probably laughed his injury away :)

Arvind Rao
Being Asha Austin's Treasurer is not a simple task, given all the paperwork and deadlines to be met. He also had to take care of emegencies at home, present a project proposal, deal with 'trouble' at work and train for a marathon. All the unexpected happenings did take a toll on his training. Due to injury concerns, he was forced to drop to a half/marathon from a full marathon. On Sunday, he will be doing the half marathon and for the team he is a hero to have braved the storms and still make it!

Ashay Ronghe
One of the few runners (5 to be precise) who will be doing the marathon on Sunday. Lively and energetic, he always makes it quite an experience for others who run with him. Like most of us he had to go through rigors of work, training and injury scares. But, he held on to do enough long runs to take him through. He is an inspiration for the rest of the team for holding on to plans! A marathon is no mean task and yet he is going to make it look easy!

Ashwini Gopinath
Sweltering heat, freezing cold, crazy winds - nothing stopped her from attending the runs that she wanted to do. She stuck to the rules and simply followed what the coaches said. The results are here to see! She is probably one of the most improved runners in the Team. Always humble, she keeps referring to herself about being slow. Nope! Its not about speed - Its the determination and dedication towards a cause. In Coachji Vinod's words : "Courage is not the absence of fear but the ability to continue despite it."

Atanu Bhattacharya
Atanu has been in Austin for a while and works for Si Labs. When Atanu started with the program, he was worried if he could make it to the finish line. I am sure that he is already looking forward to many more finish lines right now :). His training has been on and off for the most part. But, he has put in more than enough effort to be there at the start line this Sunday and make it through the finish. With Team Asha's pacers and cheering groups we will also make sure that its more than a pleasant experience for our hero!

Bharath Iyer
Consistency is the key. Just keep doing it week after week and stick to the schedule. Bharath is again an improved runner who made us feel bad by making it look real easy :) He has put in an earnest effort given all the prior commitments. Actually, he went beyond and even helped us with aspects of managing the program itself. Always there to lend a helping hand for other runners with the Team, Sunday will be his day and the Team will be there for him in full force!

Bharath Kumar
Bharath started out as an Asha volunteer. He had just moved from TAMU to Austin and was looking forward to volunteer. Hmm..running was never the plan, at least thats what he insisted on. I guess he just got sucked into it :) Here he is now, probably one of the fastest runners with Team Asha, he demonstrates how much one can improve if you are passionate about the sport, really enjoy it and believe in the cause it supports. His dedication and commitment is contagious and I am sure there are going to be many more 'runner geeks'!

Bhavishya Goel
He was not even sure for how long he was going to be in Austin! Bhavishya is actually on a business trip from India. Fortunately, he has been here long enough to be a part of making this a wonderful team. With all the unexpected scheduling, his training did get a hit, but he has pulled things together admirably to be there at the start on Sunday. Here is another hero who will be giving his best like always for a cause he truly believes in.

Go Team Asha!!

II. A Day in Shristi Special Academy

What do volunteers look for in a site visit to a grass roots effort ? How much learning really happens ? How is life for a kid in that school ? These are probably questions that sometimes come up - but, you might be too shy or just don't have the time to ask an Asha volunteer.

So, here is a sample of the answers - Gaurav Agarwal had visited Shristi Special Academy about a year ago and here is his site visit report :

http://www.ashanet.org/projects-new/documents/602/gagarwal_site_visit.doc
http://data.ashanet.org/datastore/data/Chapters/Austin/projects/gagarwal_site_visit_photos.doc

III. Inspiration that humbles

Sometimes certain actions made by individuals makes you feel so humbled and irrelevant that you might even question what you do, yet the same action inspires you to not take for granted the opportunities you have and put it to best use for all ...

The Hyots - An amazing story that inspires, yet brings you down to your feet. There is also a short video clipping.

http://cjcphoto.com/can/

Thanks,
Santhosh
( For Team Asha )

Team Asha Rocks 3M!

Hi All,

Temperatures of 37 F, felt like 28 F with wind chill. In 'desi' terms around 0 deg C!!

We had a wonderful cheering squad who braved all the rough weather to keep the team going! A big thank you to Rajiv, Aparna, Chirag, Arvind, Gaurav and Pankaj. Each one of us have many commitments related to family, work and life in general. It takes a lot to wake up so early in the morning on a 'Sunday' and be just out there sparing time for the team! You guys made it a memorable experience for all of us and spurred us on to the finish!

( Thanks to Pankaj for co-ordinating the whole cheering effort for the team. )

Here are the stars of the show though :)

(In reverse alphabetical order, for a change ..)

Vivin
( http://www.ashanet.org/austin/soh/runners/vivin.html )

She is part of an elite category within Team Asha! Being a mom in itself takes all your time and resources (If you have any doubts, you can check with my mom on how much I troubled her!). How about being a Marathon Mom? While, Syona an adorable future Team Asha runner kept her mom busy most of the time, Vivin stealthily carried on with her running, with no complaints or cribs. She switched from AT&T to 3M as her target race rather late and frankly speaking we were a bit worried! But, she finished in style and made us all proud! Vivin and Ram long term Asha volunteers once again showed us why they are part of the reason Asha Austin trudges along year after year!

Sharanya Rao
( http://www.ashanet.org/austin/soh/runners/arvindNsharanya.html )

After moving to Austin, running would have probably been the last thing on her mind! But, today she ran the longest she ever has! She finished an half marathon for a cause that she truly believes in. All through the training she was worried how she will do on the D-Day and she did amazingly well today! Sharanya is not just a Team Asha runner, she is an active Asha Austin volunteer and has been attending meetings regularly. It was rather obvious that the enthusiasm and initiative would ebb into the running too. The training and silent dedication to the schedule ensured that she cut more than 10 minutes from her expected finish time! She declared that she doesn't talk much while running. I guess, she meant she lets the running talk. In her own words - 'We don't run for that piece of metal they give us at the finish, we run for the kids'.

Minesh Shilotri
( http://www.ashanet.org/austin/soh/runners/minesh.html )

Every class in the school has these bunch of guys/gals who sit in the last bench and have a lot of fun. They take it easy, but finish strong! Minesh probably slept through most of the long runs in the entire training program (Sorry dude! Had to quote you!). Minesh missed a lot of the training and the maximum distance he had done before was about 4-5 miles. But, it takes a lot of courage and determination to not back down with all this. With a nervous start all of us are worried how he is going to shape up at the race. Yet, he seemed to suggest he wanted more at the end of the race! It truly was a committed performance today from him. Team Asha respects the die hard spirit that he demonstrated for all of us today.

Khushbu Patel
( http://www.ashanet.org/austin/soh/runners/khushbu.html )

Can any one of us imagine being in pre-med school at UT, with atleast 5 courses every semester to handle, a student job and find whatever time if possible to train for a half marathon ? I am still kind of amazed as to how she managed it! With a rigorous schedule to handle at UT, she made light weather of all the troubles and kept on with the training as much as possible. The longest she had done before last week was 6 miles and today she did much faster than expected!! Through the whole race, it looked like she was just taking it easy. So, that probably means this was just a start! Khusbu has been more than a Team Asha runner - she is a long term Asha volunteer who took the intiative in representing Asha amongst the students of UT and garnering support at UT.

Arvind Viswanath
( http://www.ashanet.org/austin/soh/runners/arvindNsharanya.html )

The target was 1 hr and 54 mins and Arvind failed miserably in reaching it and could only do 1 hour and 57 mins :) . Well, atleast he says that. This guys is too good with his running and I am sure that he is going to kick some ----- if he wants to. With a job that requires a good amount of travel, it really does curtail options of training. But, I have never heard Arvind complain about it! Rather, his involvement with Asha and its efforts has been on a steady rise! If you don't believe me, let me introduce you all to Asha Austin's new chapter co-ordinator! Yep, he leads by example. The very first meeting he attended and heard about the marathon program, he signed up to be a part of it! His initiative and spirit of volunteerism didn't stop there. After the first meeting he attended, We know of almost no meetings that he has missed! Arvind really means a lot for Asha Austin in terms of dedicated volunteers and is amazing inspiration for the rest of Team Asha!

Finally, come the crazy runners who didn't have 3M as the target race, but did it for the heck of it!

Gayathri, Charanya, Manasi, Mohit, Vivek and Ganesh - Here are ppl who are on their way to their targets and 3M was an important milestone! They just didn't make it a training run and were there to cheer us all till the end! I am pretty sure they are going to excel in their target races!

(Note: If I failed mentioning anyone's contribution to Team Asha's 3M efforts, please do bring it to everyone's notice and mail the group.)

Go Team Asha!!

Thanks,
Santhosh.

Team Asha Rocks Sumart!

Hi All,

One more target race down for Team Asha this year and we rocked the race like always! As Ganesh and Gaurav mentioned, it was a true team effort that got us this success!

Ashwini,Arvind, Roopa, Murali, Arun, Ashwini, Sharanya, Arvind,Savita,Sandhya, Salil, Mahesh, Dwarak, Divya,Itisha,Venkatesh, Priyavadan, Anita and Bharath were the ultimate support team!

All this would not have been possible if not for such care and affection showered on us! It really felt like a Formula One pit stop, every time one of the runners reached the AID station. Many thanks to the pacers who ran with us (some of them distances that they have not done frequently and that too after their early morning scheduled runs!)

There are so many things that we could keep discussing about. But, I would like to focus on just the effort that each of the wonderful runners have put in - because, as always everything else revolves around it.

Sanjeev Ranganathan

Sometimes, I really think I shouldn't comment on something thats way beyond the league! But, being a witness to this extraordinary effort, I feel I need to let the team know. Sanjeev, never planned to run the 50 miler until just a few weeks back. The original plan was to train for the 50K. He had recurring groin problems, he fell down trails, had cold/fever bouts, back pain and got lost in the wilderness for more time than any of us have ever been off course! It was a tremendous effort on saturday, when he gave his all to reach the cut-off of 9 hours for the third loop. When he did come in a little over 11 hours at the end of his third loop - nothing was lost - He was an inspiration for the whole team in so many ways and thats not new to him. Here is an Asha veteran that we all would be proud to know.

Anita komanduri

Silent, humble and almost unnoticed - The mother of all efforts is sometimes lost in just its humbleness! Many a times she has taught us how not to make a fuss about any of these efforts. She finished her first ultra marathon strong and in style! I know I am going to get it from her for this - keeping all gender sensitiveness in mind, I just can't avoid proclaiming Team Asha's first woman ultra marathoner! She had serious ITB problems and that even stopped her from completing some of the training runs. Running mountains in Bandera really didn't help it a lot. But, we all knew that she was going to bounce right back! In about 8 hours she finished her first 50 km run and made us all proud of what we are doing.

This is probably Sanjeev and Anita's last race with Asha Austin's marathon program. They were one of the reasons why Asha Austin even has a marathon program. Wishing all the best for Sanjeev and Anita's life ahead in India. We shall as always look upto them for inspiration and direction.

Ganesh Krishnamoorthy

Shameless copy paste from what we wrote about him last year -

"Sport is not about being wrapped up in cotton wool. Sport is about adapting to the unexpected and being able to modify plans at the last minute. Sport, like all life, is about taking risks."
- Sir Roger Bannister

It somehow still holds true. He was determination personified, when even a 'stupid' disqulification rule that stripped him of his bib no. couldn't stop him from doing what he set out for. A bad fall in the trails even before the first half of the race ended meant a lot of blood loss, less energy and lots of pain. He spent aboout 12 hours and 30 minutes on the trails trudging along and never ever giving up! I don't think anyone could have convinced him about dropping out even as the race infrastructure was brought down. I have not seen anything like this before!

Vinod Viswanath

Asha Austin's one and only 'Coach ji'. The marathon veteran showed us the way all these years and it was no different on saturday as Team Asha moved into the realms of 'Ultra' running. Intermittent training and a lot of travel didn't really help him get a wholesome training program. But, it was never a complaint or an excuse! As always he kept the spirits up and gave us all the invaluable gems of advice that just comes with experience. Though he probably wasn't too happy about his time, I am sure he is going to set it right pretty soon - maybe within a year :) If you are happy that Asha Austin has this wondeful program, here is one person you might want to thank for sure! This is probably Vinod's last run with Team Asha when in Austin. Rather than feel worried about a future without coach ji, I think its upto all of us to make the dream live on and make the program a sucess year after year!

Gaurav Agarwal

A+ - for those who don't know, it means planning, perseverence, commitment and dedication. He held everything together for all us crazy ultras - he took care of almost every area - food, travel, race plans etc week after week! Meticulous in his planning and execution, he made it all very easy for us. He had some bad cramps towards the end of the third loop. He had some health problems even the next day. I was joking about the 'royal' treatment he got after the race - but, the truth is he made through this crazy ultra marathon in 10 hrs, given all that he had to go through! Team Asha is in safe hands as gaurav gives his 100% to a cause that all of us believe in. It takes a lot of effort to organize, sustain and pour one's efforts into a program of this magnitude - Gaurav has led by example on each one of these aspcts. He is an inspiration to all of us and Team Asha looks foward to more races with A+!!

Santhosh Padmanabhan

Yep! I get to talk about myself :) ..The truth is, I was just 'plain' lucky. I never had to go through anything that others had to go through. But, for the encouragement and support from wondeful Team Asha friends on the trails supporting us, it could have been a lot different. I had a memorable experience - not just because of 'my own race', but with people travelling long distances to just encourage us all!


Many thanks to all the runners of the team for being with all of us through the way!


Thanks,
Santhosh.

Team Asha Rocks Motive!

Hi All,

November 12, Sunday 2006 - Team Asha conquers the first 'Target Race' of the season! Every runner out there today did a great job! This is one of the most hilly race courses ( http://www.mapmyrace.com/races/MotiveBison2006/ ) in Austin and yet it was no match for our runners!

Here are the Team Asha runners who successfully completed the 'Goal' of finishing the motive half marathon :

Ajay Taparia -
Ajay is doing an internship at Silicon labs and heard about the program through his roommate, Venkatesh and Asha volunteers. He had no qualms in commiting himself to the challenging task of training for a half-marathon and fundraising. He was so good that he even did a 10 miler way before others in the program did it ( actually, he got lost :) ..). His commitment to training, patience and determination made him a winner as he passed the finishing line today!
( http://www.ashanet.org/austin/soh/runners/ajayNvenkatesh.html )

Venkatesh Acharya -
Venkatesh is also doing an internship at Silicon labs. Lively and full of enthusiasm, he kept the team in good spirits in the training sessions. He is also known for his great cooking abilities - his speciality being delicacies from Karataka. Just a week before motive Venkatesh's training had a 'hiccup'. He had to deal with shin splints. But, he put up a brave fight today and carried himself along in his own characteristic never-say-die attitude! He was literally limping in the first few miles! He was not sure if he could run. But, he ran through the finish line today to be one more Team Asha veteran!
( http://www.ashanet.org/austin/soh/runners/ajayNvenkatesh.html )

Pankaj Kalra -
Pankaj is doing his internship with Sematech. He had volunteered with Asha when in UC, Berkley. He dropped into one of Asha Austin's meetings and didn't take long to decide that he will be running for Team Asha! He was regular and commited to his training. At a time when Asha Austin is in need of volunteers, Pankaj's efforts as a volunteer is very helpful. Today as a Team Asha runner, he again gave his 100% towards a cause he believes in. Even after the back breaking hills of motive today, there he was for the usual 2 p.m. Asha meeting!
( http://www.ashanet.org/austin/soh/runners/pankaj.html )

Congratulations to the three of them for meeting their goals! Team Asha encourages and eagerly awaits their wonderful sprint across the finish line with the fundraising efforts. Great job guys !

Marathoners -

Arvind Rao
Itisha Tyagi
Sriram Sambamurthy
VishvJeet
Ashay Ronghe
Mihir Anandpara

Team Asha full marathoners have reached the half way point in their training with motive. All of them finished strong and are ready to take on any hills now! The training does get tough from here, but when the going gets tough, Team Asha gets going !

Other Team Asha runners Ganesh, Sanjeev, Vinod, Gaurav and Santhosh had a nice run too!

Mahesh Subramony finished his first half marathon at motive. Due to unexpected reasons he couldn't join us all earlier in the program. Today he finished the half marathon displaying amazing grit and determination!

Congrats to Asha patrons Chandu, Lalit and Karthik for finishing the half marathon!

Our heartfelt thanks to the tireless cheering through out the race!!

Thanks to AshwiniG, Arun (and his drums!), Anuroopa, Sayli, Bhavishya, Bhavishya's friend, Salil, Nivas, Dwarak and Divya.

It requires a lot of effort to get up from the bed early on a cold sunday morning and shout out for the team for hours ! You guys are amazing and we owe it to you!

Thanks to AshwiniT for patiently dealing with all the registration, organization, cheering efforts and also for coming out to support us!

If you thought its over, you are mistaken, its just started! We have three more big races to go!

Sunmart Ultras - Dec 9th
3M Half - Jan 31st
AT&T Half & Full - Feb 19th

Hopefully we have more of Team Asha come out to root for its runners in all these races.

You run so they can read.

Go Team Asha!!

Thanks,
Santhosh.
(For Team Asha)