Nearly two months after she embarked on the Herculean task of running across the country for a cause, Rajasthan native Sufiya Khan, 33, already finds her heart full of warm experiences and lessons from the scores of cities that she has passed through.
Speaking to The Hindu from Pune, where she reached on Friday, Ms. Khan said her ‘Run For Hope’ initiative aims to complete 4,000 km from Kashmir to Kanyakumari in 100 days.
“The thought process behind this run was to spread the message of humanity, openness, positivity and equality (HOPE),” Ms. Khan said.
In April 2018, Ms. Khan became the fastest female runner to complete the Great Indian Golden Triangle Run on foot. She completed 720 km in 16 days and made it into the India Book of Records. This run inspired her to spread her message of humanity throughout India, and she decided to run from Kashmir to Kanyakumari. This run, when completed, will be registered with the Guinness Book of World Records, and will be the first of its kind.
Ms. Khan has found huge support through the course of her run. “I am astounded by the hospitality and love that I receive from others. Apart from people who have been following my journey through social media, I get to interact with the local people, who see me running and join me. During my run in Punjab, women and young girls would join me, running beside me in slippers,” Ms. Khan said.
“Running and interacting with people helps you dismantle your own prejudices against people. When I started my run in Srinagar, I crossed areas like Pulwama, where I was joined by Army personnel and local people. The climate was extremely hospitable. It was an eye-opening moment,” Ms. Khan added.
People around the country have found resonance with Ms. Khan’s message as well as her enthusiasm for running. While running in Nashik, Ms. Khan met a family from Kanchali, who drove over 300 km to interact with her.
Ms. Khan follows a strict schedule in which she begins running everyday at 4.30 a.m. to reach her goal of 50 km a day. Running a cross-country marathon comes with its own challenges, with the weather being a significant challenge. While cities like Srinagar were cool, Ludhiana and Jalandhar bought extreme heat and dehydration.
The journey has also been fraught with physical injuries and natural calamities. On her way to Jalandhar, Ms. Khan was caught in dust storms. “I suffered a collapsed lung and swollen bladder. Dust had entered my nose and my eyes and I was hospitalised for five days,” Ms. Khan said. During her recuperation period, it was the support from people around her that motivated her to get stronger and not give up, she said.
Throughout her run, Ms. Khan has also motivated others to start running. “I don’t run to compete or push myself. Running is like meditation for me. I started running as a way to find an escape from the stress that came with work,” Ms. Khan said.
Highlighting her message of unity and hope, Ms. Khan also spoke about India’s cultural diversity. “Running for me is an emotional experience. Watching people from different cities join me, learning about them, living with them, is changing my perspective of life. Each culture brings something to cherish,” she said.
Ms. Khan is aiming to complete the race in Kankyakumari by July 21 this year. She also wishes to run globally for spreading her message of positivity and unity in the future.
“The need for this run came out of my observation of our current atmosphere. People have turned more angry and negative. Instead of understanding each other, we bring each other down. We spread vitriol on social media and spend time trolling others. This shift in people’s mentality is bringing our morals down,” Ms. Khan said.
She added, “The world is full of good and bad people, but we get fixated on the stereotypes that we hear from others. I want to inspire and connect people. I want to bring our basic humanity back, where everyone moves a step forward to becoming more kind, positive and understanding.”