Nothing of me is original. I am the combined effort of everyone I’ve ever known - Chuck Palahniuk
...and who is this everyone? People you meet on an everyday basis? Teachers? Friends? Foes and enemies, or, is it just your own older version that you’ve outgrown and triumphed over, a superior of your former self. True nobility lies in being superior to your former self and in Kavitha Kanaparathi we met just that person who has triumphed over and over again, over adversities, over setbacks and in Kavitha we met someone who has carved life to her liking and to her own desires.
When you first set eyes on Kavitha, you see an unassuming woman, simple, approachable and someone you can strike a conversation with quickly and during the conversation is when you realize how deceptive looks can truly be. Her frail frame fails to show that she is a mother who has given birth less than a year ago and is about to embark on an epic adventure of cycling 860 miles in the USA. It also does not show a woman who has overcome innumerable setbacks to be the beautiful, strong version that she is today.
Running is still a nascent sport in India and people are just warming up to the idea of a marathon, a distance of 42.2km. The weekends are packed with events across the country and most of them shy away from even offering a full marathon as a racing category. Enter Globeracers, a brainchild of Kavitha's and it offers races ranging from 25km in the Nilgiris to a single stage 338 km in the Himalayas, routed through Rohtang Pass just for fun. The distances offered by Globeracers are audacious in the face of the events and locations that most race organizers cater to. In a bloated running space that contrives not to push human endurance but to fatten cash coffers, Globeracers is probably the only organization, that truly aspires to push endurance and make it a human forte. Some embody this forte, some don't, Kavitha definitely does.
Couple of hours into our conversation and Kavitha slips into a space that we didn't know we'd get into, a space of her painful past that many aren’t aware of. Kavitha describes herself as a "Sum total of a lot of things; Heartbreak, mishaps, stubbornness, bravery, foolishness and loss”.
After spending fifteen days being unconscious Kavitha is lying bedridden in a dark room at her home, grasping her mother's hand for comfort, her head spins and she's falling endlessly through a void. Accident induced vertigo is what she suffers from along with multiple fractures and shattered bones but that was a long time ago, a long time ago when she was teenager and was knocked down by a bus while on her cycle. The mental and physical scarring remains along with an occasional bout of vertigo to remind her of a dark time during her life. One would expect, someone who undergoes so much trauma to never ride again, to never ever again to even go close to a bi-cycle and still Kavitha cycles regularly and is all set to cycle away in the USA across 860 miles shortly. It's awe-inspiring to see her cycle around town today, overcoming an incident that almost left her broken physically and to peek into her personality that holds the broken pieces in place.
In a steeply male-dominated world, Kavitha's brush with the accompanying prejudices has been, unfortunately, very often. She speaks about this in great pain and length. The short-handedness and friction with male members of the society, including close family and partners has provided her the crux with which we recognize Kavitha; strength.
Kavitha started her engineering at REC but dropped out abruptly due to altercations with her lecturer, a lecturer who called her names and pulled her family too into a tussle that didn't need them. Her time in REC also gave her a glimpse of how lopsided the world would be to her. Ever so eager to run and be fit, Kavitha found no qualms in approaching male colleagues and asking them to train her to run. The association was short-lived, people including her peers soon started name calling and an elaborate character assassination just because she chose to run with someone of the opposite sex. She left REC shortly after that, taking a lesson and learning out of the whole experience and flying out to the USA to pursue and continue with her studies.
Engaged to her best friend the wedding never materialized; friction and misunderstandings between the families cut short what would have been a life-long relationship. Though in touch with her friend now, Kavitha recalls the incident with much regret and mentions the bad luck that has been her nemesis. She feels, it was one of the decisions that shaped her life. She recognizes what loss means when a single decision has the power to alter the course of one’s life entirely. Accepting her folly had been tough knowing it was her fault in equal measure.
Kavitha finds a partner shortly and unfortunately, it's turbulent journey. Though separated, Kavitha fights a decade long legal battle for a divorcee status and the battle takes its toll and losses. Regular visits to the courts keeps her rooted to India and without a settled legal status, she lost a life-time opportunity to work with the Federal agency in the US after being selected as a Special Agent, one of only less than a handful of Indian origin women to have achieved that position. The long-drawn stalemate damages several more opportunities to grow and flourish. Her financial losses run into eight figures, she loses out on a cycling team that she helped build and nurture and more importantly just ten years of hard fruit-less labor.
But the journey also makes her stronger, resolute and resilient. She has a new man in her life now, a little bundle of joy (9 months) who can race Kavitha while crawling. Kavitha is a single mother and her brush with prejudices continue unabated. Neighbours enquire about the baby's father and some question whether the baby is adopted for Kavitha definitely doesn't look like someone who gave birth a short-time ago. But she handles them with ease for she has dealt with far more. She says a coward can neither be her partner nor anyone’s role model.
Kavitha has always set big goals and bigger dreams for herself and she continues to do it. The women strong initiative (www.womenstrongcollective.org) stems from the desire to see more women adopting a healthier lifestyle with sports at its core. The initiative aims to be a resource for every woman who needs support, finances, training and/or a community that believes she can be who she wants to be and do more, and make a dent in the glass ceiling. Through the program Kavitha and her team hope to spread the joy of sports that gives freedom, courage and asserts independence of an individual through sporting events at local, school, college and corporate level.
The idea of enabling women to ’kick the ball’ she says, is one of the program goals. Women face enough challenges and gender bias. Sports should level the playing field and women should have as many opportunities to enjoy a day out, sweating it out and “kicking ball” as anyone else. Through WomenStrong, Kavitha hopes to take a bottom up approach to changing the sports landscape for women in the country by reaching out to women in both urban and rural contexts, creating platforms that allow them to participate and play!
Kavitha herself wants to set the example here and show that it's possible to have audacious dreams and case them down,to support the women strong initiative she plans to participate in a 860-mile cycling endeavor from Oceanside in California to Durango in Colorado, riding through rocky mountains, Arizona desert and desolate landscape of Utah. It's not going to be a ride in the park this one, long solo rides, training rides upwards of 100 miles on a regular basis, precise nutrition and hydration. She is currently fundraising for this massive journey on https://www.bitgiving.com/u/kavitha-kanaparthi.
Even as she is training and fundraising, Kavitha has just launched Globeracers' RAIN (Race Across India, a 3677 Kms ultracyling event), a ride that will span across from the West Coast to the East Coast of India. The ride passes through the States of Gujarat, Maharastra, Karnataka, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa. The 2017 November first edition is open only to 10 riders across the world before opening upto qualified riders in 2018.
We at Oya love meeting women who inspire us with their zeal to be a better version of themselves each and every day and Kavitha Kannaparthi is one of them. We pray for favorable weather during her training and race days, we wish her a little tail wind to power her sails through her endeavors. Keep inspiring us Kavitha.