No pause for a cause

Mar 23, 2012, 07:47 IST | Hemal Ashar

City trio are all set to cycle non-stop for a daunting 320-km from Mumbai to Pune and back

City trio are all set to cycle non-stop for a daunting 320-km from Mumbai to Pune and back

Three Mumbai professionals, Dr Aashish Contractor (40), Preventive Cardiologist and Head of Department of Cardiac Rehabilitation at Asian Heart Institute, Mumbai, Prashant Mehta, (43), Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and Jaideep Khanna (47), Managing Director and Head of Corporate and Investment Banking, Barclays, are ready to cycle from Mumbai to Pune and back to raise funds.

Dial p for practice: (from left) Prashant Mehta, Jaideep Khanna
and Dr Aashish Contractor 

The trio will cycle on April 1. They will ride from Mumbai University (Fort) to Pune University and back again, covering a distance of 320 km, a route that includes the Mumbai-Pune ghats. Their goal is to raise money for St Jude Child Care Centre, a Non Governmental Organization (NGO) with centres in Mumbai, working with children suffering from cancer. They are targeting an ambitious Rs 30 lakh and more.  

Gruelling: The peloton races during the 21st and final stage of Le Tour
de France 2011, from Creteil to the Champs-Elysees on July 24, 2011
in Paris, France. The Tour De France is the most challenging distance
cycling event in the world. Pic/Getty Images

The three say that they "are keen amateur athletes with an interest in charity. Every year we plan our training schedule around a fitness goal, and to ensure that we stick to it, we use it to achieve a philanthropic goal.  Over the past couple of years we have approached colleagues, friends and family to raise money for worthy charities using the one big event and our participation as a draw."

In fact last year, they had cycled Mumbai to Peshwa city as Pune is known, covering a distance of 175 km. The ride was self-funded and the three good cycling Samaritans raised they say, over Rs 15 lakh for St Jude Child Care Centre and for Akansha, an NGO, which provides education for underprivileged children. They say that, "The amount was raised from individuals, not corporates."

This time, since they are doing twice the distance, they hope to raise double that sum and say, "We have upped both the monetary target and the physical challenge." They are bullish about their prospects of reaching the money goal stating that there has been a staggering response already. Says Dr Contractor, "People pledge a certain amount for every kilometer we cycle. If somebody wants to give a fixed sum, then that is fine too."

Since these cyclists are tapping individuals they tell people of their endeavour and people, who usually have a personal equation with them, pledge them the money. The cheques are sent to them after they complete the event. In case, they do not complete the distance, Contractor says, "Technically, they will pay for the amount we have actually covered. Having said that though, I think most would pay the full sum in any case."

Contractor says he is even more determined to reach the finish line, back to Mumbai because of a personal trigger. "Recently, a very close family member has been diagnosed with cancer and has just been operated for the same. Her brave fight has made me more determined to complete the ride strongly."

These pedal-happy Mumbaikars though say that it is not binding on people to contribute specifically to St Jude. If someone has another cause close to heart and wishes to donate to that instead of St Jude that works too. The larger purpose is to use the cycle as an instrument to help the underprivileged.    
While charity and sterling deeds are all very well, it is not just noble intentions but cardiovascular fitness that will see them across the finish line. This distance that the three propose to complete is much longer than the longest stage of the world's most gruelling cycling event -- the Tour de France. In 2011, the longest stage was a flat stage of 226.5 km in the Tour de France. 

In this Desi Tour de Heart let's call it both for the cause it espouses and the aerobic fitness it demands, during the 14-16 hours non-stop that they expect to be on the bike, the trio expects to face huge weather fluctuations. In training in and around the city, the cyclists say they have dodged erratic truckers and motorists and even mad dogs who longed to prove that their bark is as good as their bite, as they snapped at their wheels and heels.

Having skirted around canine challenges and bumped over potholes, besides feeling the searing heat pierce through their cycling jerseys, the three feel they are ready for anything on the big day and through the night as they cycle on. They will take just a few breaks to re-fuel which means eat and drink, and answer the calls of nature through the 16 hours they plan to be on the road. "If all goes well, we finish in 16 hours, stopping for a total of 45-60 minutes," says Dr Contractor.

Jaideep Khanna adds that through their practice rides they have experienced huge weather variations from 14 degrees centigrade to 34 degrees centigrade. "This Sunday we plan a long practice ride of about 250 km," says Jaideep, who adds that they took approximately three-four months to get ready for the distance they are going to tackle, eking out time from a hectic work schedule. On April 1, the cyclists will have two-three personal cars following them on the trail to give them food and water.

In their appeal to people asking them to donate the three write: 'To speed us on our way and to give us motivation when our legs are flagging, our heads are sagging and our butts are reminding us that they were not designed to be planted on five-inch wide cycle seats for 15 hours at a time, please donate generously. We ask you to pledge an amount per km of distance that we cover--for example, Rs 10 per km will result in a Rs 3200 pledge, Rs 100 in Rs 32,000 and Rs 1,000 per km will result in a Rs 3,20,000 pledge if we make it to Pune and back."

Contractor & Co. want to prove that they practice what they preach or pedal and so to establish a minimum corpus, they say they are pledging Rs 3,50,000, of their own money. As the clock ticks on and the big day approaches, they know, that every drop of sweat they shed in practice will come in use as they soldier up those ghats in a lung-searing effort. And, as they ride towards the finish line, back again to Mumbai, even those "mad dogs" they dodged in their practice runs will wag their tails in appreciation amidst applause.

About St Jude Child Care Centres
St Jude Child Care Centres is an organization providing free housing for children and parents that come to the city for cancer treatment. St Jude ensures these kids finish their treatment by providing them with a place to stay and the emotional support that comes along with it. At present they have seven centres: one in Mhaskar Hospital, (off Delisle Road), two in Parel run out of the Indian Cancer Society building and four in Kharghar.
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