This article was written for Wildcraft India Pvt Ltd Blog
Image Copyright: Vishwesh Shiva Prasad, As taken from Kavita
“Running was my only solace. It was my thread to sanity, it was something that just kept me going…” the background noise of the coffee shop faded away as Kavitha Kanaparthi spoke about her life and how running helped her heal and grow. Speaking about her journey from being an electrical engineer to creating Globeracers, Kavitha took us down memory lane…
Kavitha has been running since the late 1970’s, “running came to me easily, I took to it like a fish takes to water,” she reminisces with a smile. A daughter of a surgeon, Kavitha and her sister were educated in a school that was built by her father, “we were living in a village in Andhra Pradesh, where the facilities were limited and my father wanted us to be formally educated. So, he built a school for my sister and me and also ensured that the school had some of the best teachers from across the country, it also helped several families living around,” adds Kavitha.
While Kavitha liked academics, she was also good in sports and particularly excelled in cycling and running. “I simply loved the outdoors, I would either be running or cycling with my friends most evenings and my father would have to send someone to come looking for me either on the highway or around the village,” reminisces Kavitha.
While running formed an integral part of Kavitha’s life, she had other grand plans – Kavitha had always wanted to be an aeronautical engineer and a pilot. However after schooling and migrating to the US, Kavitha graduated as an electrical engineer. “This happened by default and not by choice,” adds Kavitha.
This default, was caused by a life- changing event… Kavitha met with a near-death accident in her tenth. “It was my regular 5 am ritual – I would cycle to my friend’s house, leave my bike there and we would go running. On the morning of January 3rd, I guess I woke up late, but I nevertheless cycled down to my friends place… maybe it was too foggy and I couldn’t judge the distance while taking a right turn… and a bus hit me. I had serious head injury and one side of my face had to be reconstructed. I was in coma for 2 ½ to 3 weeks after which, I woke up with amnesia. A thread of my life is still missing, because of the trauma. Even if someone tells me about an incident, it is like a story being narrated,” says Kavitha.
Even after recovering, there have been several complications. Some of the blood wasn’t drained out of her skull and Kavitha would keep bleeding from her ears and nose. It also happened that some of the blood particles coming out of her ear coalesced; “so whenever there is a disturbance in those particles, I get dizzy, it was major those 6-7 years after the accident. Once every month in a year, I would shut myself in a dark room, unable to bear sounds, unable to take any movement…. I just needed darkness and nothing else. I had to go through different kinds of medications, it was a bad cycle,” says Kavitha.
Further talking about her trauma Kavitha says, “I remember that I would take the scooter out, ride up to a point and the next minute I would be at a traffic junction and I couldn’t even remember how I got there. So I couldn’t ride, I couldn’t cycle anymore… the only thing that kept me going was running. I couldn’t play any sports I loved, it was just running, the steady slow pace that kept me going.”
Looking back, today Kavitha almost gets a surreal out-of-body experience, it’s like she is watching a film on her own life. Today, while there is a very different Kavitha post-accident, there is one constant factor both before and after the accident – Running. Thinking back all those years, Kavitha says, “It was running that kept my sanity. I was in a state of loss, I was groping for my identity, looking for some meaning somewhere… and it was running that gave me that meaning I was searching.”
After this life has been from one change to another, Kavitha began her engineering with civil, moved to electrical, then to architecture, computers and finally graduated as an electrical engineer. Soon after her graduation, Kavitha was sure she did not want to work for someone, “I dabbled around with different businesses, made and lost money and made money again. During all of this, when something was stressful or difficult to handle, the first thing I would do is put on my shoes and head out running,” says Kavitha.
Kavitha further adds, “Every time I am out on a trail, I am lost on that trail, nothing touches me… it is just me and the trail. I am absolutely in bliss on the trail. I like the challenge of the trails, the unevenness of each step, I like the fact that I can expect unexpected bumps, dips, the lows and highs, the slipping down and falling…”
Kavitha further adds, “I have come to realise that there is nothing that is too big or too difficult in this world, there is no goal that is too high and there is nothing that is undoable. I am going to create the bar, and nobody else has to set the bar.”
Ultra runs and trail running in India seemed to be the next natural progression in her life. “I came to India after a long break in 2005 for some work. During those years running wasn’t that big here and I could hardly find people who would run with me. I nevertheless, would begin my day early in the morning, put on my shoes and head out for a run, and people would just stare,” reminisces Kavitha.
During her next visit, Kavitha was staying in Basavangudi, where she chanced upon one runner who happened to be in the same serviced apartment. “Coincidently, he happened to see me running one morning and during breakfast we struck a conversation. During the course of our conversation, I told him that I wanted to go running in the mountains and explore the Indian landscape. So we made a plan to go to Sandakphu, we got together with a group of friends and headed out for a 4 day run of 20 km in a day – this was in 2009 May,” says Kavitha.
After this Kavitha realised that the mountains were quite accessible in India making trail and mountain running is an easy and doable possibility here. “When I next came towards the end of September and October, I went to Rajasthan. There I went to Jaisalmer, Jodhpur and Jaipur… but I found these places to be very crowded. So I took off to Pokharan and on some advice from the locals went to meet the Thakhurs,” says Kavitha.
To cut a long story short, Kavitha met the locals, who in turn asked her to speak to the Thakur’s son. Fortunately this advice turned out to be helpful and Kavitha not only found a friend but also found the spot for her first multi-day run in December. Initially, Globeracers was started as a blog for all of Kavitha’s runs across the globe, “I never intended it to be an organization, but once I started the races, everything seemed to naturally fall in place,” adds Kavitha.
The first race that was organized had participants from different countries, the only Indian runner was, Arun Bharadwaj. Now the Globeracers have grown to have schedules that run all year long. “From only one Indian on a run now we have several who are willing to go on ultra runs and marathons, and it feels great,” says Kavitha.
After the very first run of 210 km along the Thar Desert of Rajasthan, Kavitha, today with Globeracers has been able to create several runs and races across the country – the North Eastern sides, Southern India, Himalayas, Rann of Kutch and the Western Ghats. From runs, she has even moved on to conduct cycle trails and triathlons.
In all her years as a trail runner, cyclist and outdoor enthusiast, if there is one thing that she feels brings in the sense of grounding and completeness it is running on different trails. “If I have to run on the road, there is nothing for me there, but you set up a challenge of running on the mountains… then I am up for it. I completely enjoy the fact that it challenges me physically, mentally and sometimes even emotionally. Sometimes I sit on the trail and cry, everything is so overwhelming and the pain is shearing… the vastness of everything around is just too much… but then I just get up and continue running. Nature never fails to punish, humble and ground me,” says Kavitha.
Further elaborating, Kavitha says, “you better leave that ego at home, if you head out in nature with an ego, the first thing she will do is punish you, before humbling you.” Citing an experience Kavitha adds, “This incident happened to me on one of the trials on the Baralacha sides. I was breezing through at 20 km a day on those steep paths, narrow lanes… I was in my element. And then… the river welcomed me, we had to cross the river, I was thinking it shouldn’t be difficult, let’s just throw the rope across the pass and we can move on easily… but then when I got into the water I almost got washed away.
That day it didn’t teach me anything, the only thing that crossed my mind was – fine the water is too fast, let’s try something else. I saw a goat trail and thought we could take that route. Little did I think about the logistics of that ‘goat trail?’ So when we went on the trail, there were no ice bridges, which were there the previous day! We had to come back and sit on the side of the river for three days – that is punishing… you can never think you are mightier than the mountains or nature. If you want to stare nature in the face; just go into the wild and you will realise you are nothing.”
Speaking of her love for the outdoors, Kavitha says, “But for trails, mountains and nature what else is there? If you are not one with nature, there is nothing there to live for. If you haven’t seen life and beauty, then what else is there to see in this world? We can pretend to be different and wear all these clothes, but we are animals too. We might have adapted different things and have now taken in to fancy coffees and drinks at fancy places, but we are the ones who have lost touch with the natural order of the world. We are ruining what has been given to us, we are no longer in sync with our natural selves; trails teach me everything, they never fail to help me discover something about myself. You don’t have anything in the outdoors that help you other than your body and your inner self.”
Looking back at all the close shaves she has had to experience, Kavitha says, “today I simply can’t afford to take anything for granted. Life is a gift, and if you can’t begin to understand what you are here for? Then you are just wasting it…”