Light on his feet

Amrita Prasad
Wednesday, 29 May 2019

Visually impaired Amarjeet Singh Chawla is set to run from Mumbai to Pune, between May 31 and June 2, to raise awareness of ‘No More Avoidable Blindness’

He may be visually impaired, but mention running, and his face lights up instantly. At 63, he’s jovial, full of life, and has a sense of humour that’ll crack you up. Mumbai-based Amarjeet Singh Chawla, popularly known as Sporty Sikh, never allowed his visual impairment to stop him from pursuing his passion. 

He will be running from Mumbai to Pune, between May 31 and June 2, to spread awareness of ‘No More Avoidable Blindness’ — an initiative of the National Institute of Ophthalmology (NIO) Vision Marathon, and to tell people that 80 per cent blindness is avoidable if one takes preventive measures and seeks medical help in time. 

Chawla, who has already participated in 174 races, 106 half marathons, 64 10-km runs and four ultra marathons, will start running from Goregaon Sports Club in Mumbai and finish at Rabindranath Tagore School of Excellence, Balewadi, Pune, on June 2, covering a distance of about 150 km. He says, “The idea is to educate while running on our route. We will create awareness among people about ways of preventing blindness. Runners like Kumar Ajwani, Arvind Bijwe, Mansoor Mirza, Mrunal Inamdar and a few others will run/ walk together with me for the entire distance.”

Chawla had a normal 6/6 vision till the age of 13, however due to macular degeneration, he gradually began to lose his eyesight. “I underwent every kind of treatment but sadly, nothing helped and I lost my eyesight completely by the age of 40... I was going about leading my life and running by lottery business for years when I got a message from National Association for the Blind (NAB) in 2004, asking me to take part in a marathon aimed at raising funds for the visually impaired. After training, I opted for a 7K run where I was assisted by an escort who held the other end of the stick while I ran. There, I was spotted by Kapil Dev, who offered to escort me for the rest of the distance. Soon, I took part in a 12K run where I was called on the stage and given a medal. This boosted my confidence and I thought while other runners are running for themselves, I should run for others to create awareness about prevention of blindness,” says Chawla who started running marathons at the age of 48, adding that pranayam keeps him fit. Sporty Sikh is also a swimmer, trekker and mountaineer. 

Being visually impaired and running marathons at 63 is an uphill task. “I can’t be a podium finisher — an escort holds the stick during my run, which makes it impossible to keep pace with other runners. Often, potholes, and uneven or slippery roads act as deterrents. Besides, many a time, runners don’t realise that I can’t see and they push me and go ahead. It is tough for big marathons to care for such things, but in smaller runs, it is easier to manage. I have got a lot of support from the running community and marathon organisers, however, there are also instances when organisers refuse to waive off registration fee when I request them. There are challenges on my way, but I am determined to achieve my goals,” says Chawla who has often fallen, broken a knee and twisted an ankle.     

Chawla was adjudged the Best Sportsman of the Year 2014 by National Sports Club for the Blind, Mumbai. It is claimed that he is the only visually impaired person to scale 19,830ft high Dolma La Pass in Kailash Parikrama, Tibet (China), in 2009 and complete 1,100ft rappelling from Takmak Point in Raigad Fort in the same year. He also won gold in 50 m freestyle in All India Swimming Competition for Disabled, Mumbai, in 2004. “If I get appropriate escorts and enough sponsorship, I wish to climb many other higher peaks and make records and set an example that the visually impaired is no less. If I can do this, so can you. One has to be positive in life and celebrate what you have,” he says. 

Here is how you can become a part of this story
- Participant in this run for part of the distance or the entire length.
- No payment or registration fee required, you take care of your expenses.
- Meet at some point along the route and cheer up Team Chawla.
- He needs someone to drive alongside in a car with water and other supplies. You could do that. 
- To check out the detailed plan for his three-day long run, and also to register for the July 21 NIO Vision Marathon, visit www.niovisionmarathon.com 

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