I am Pragya, and I’m a part of an NGO called Atijeevan Foundation in Bangalore which provides help and support to acid attack survivors. I met Milind Soman in 2014 and expressed my interest to include acid attack survivors in the Pinkathon. My neighbours had been participating in the Pinkathon for a couple of years and we had often exchanged views on the benefits of running. When a few of my friends and neighbours were preparing to participate, I considered it an opportune time to start and went on to register myself.
I ran my first Pinkathon in Bangalore in January 2017, but I was initially a little hesitant to participate. I had a lot of doubts in my head since I didn’t know if I would be able actually to run a marathon. Along with that, there were the constant thoughts of, “How would people react to seeing me run?” “What if I fall or hurt myself?” “What if they throw me out because kids may get scared of me?.” At the beginning of the run, I did feel a little bit of panic set in because I knew I was different than the others and that was scary. But when I started looking around, I saw that everyone at the run was different in their own way, and that put me at ease.
The biggest motivation for me was the participation of visually impaired girls. My friends who are also regular runners, especially Shweta Sen, encouraged me to enrol in the Bangalore Pinkathon. But the most important factor that motivated me was the realisation that I could become an example to my survivors and motivate them to run for their own good. I felt so inspired by the visually impaired #PinkSisters, the baby wearing mothers and the cancer survivors who were running with us. I ran the Bangalore Pinkathon to get over my doubts and hesitations. I thought if all these amazing women around me could run with such courage, why couldn’t I?
Apart from the physical training that was required, I had to prepare myself mentally, too. I hadn’t been a part of any mass movements since my acid attack which was 11 years ago. I needed to leave behind my fear of what people would think when they saw me. Thankfully, it wasn’t challenging for me to do that since reading inspiring stories on the Pinkathon page gave me the boost of confidence I needed.
The biggest motivation that I received was from people appreciating the little steps you take in the right direction. Pinkathon was the first step I took towards improving my health and being fit. The applause at every 100 meters by the Pinkathon Volunteers was what kept me going throughout the run. The entire experience was so heartwarming. The smiles shared with fellow runners during the marathon truly made me feel wonderful. I could see and feel all of us running together as one big Pinkathon family. The run made me feel accomplished. The sense of satisfaction that I felt after doing something good for myself was incredible.
After running my first marathon in Bangalore, I wanted to encourage the other survivors to run. I had also promised Milind Soman that I’d try my best to get fellow survivors be a part of this incredible run. I ran the Chennai Pinkathon because I wanted to motivate other girls like me to run and help them have the same experience. I was already in touch with more than 100 acid attack survivors across the country to aid them in surgeries, counselling and rehabilitation. Through Atijeevan I have helped each one of them in some way. To encourage them to run for themselves and the cause was a part of their rehabilitation goals, so it was a natural fit to convince them. They look up to me for everything because they know I have gone through the same pain and will understand them in a better way. When I became an example, it was very easy to get them on the road to run.
They too had the same doubts that I once had. But I kept telling them that there was nothing to be worried about and that we would be running for a good cause. Moreover, I kept reminding them that we would be running for ourselves. I wrote that I wanted to leave ‘hesitation’ behind on the back of my bib because it had kept me from living my life to the fullest. It affected the other girls too, and I wanted us to take a step towards becoming more confident, and Pinkathon Chennai helped us do just that. Since I was in Bangalore and the girls were in Chennai, we didn’t get a chance to practice together. We practised individually for few days as health permitted.
Every girl who ran that day felt wonderful after completing the run. Their happiness was so evident on their faces. They even asked me when the next run was. Pinkathon is a movement which supports women to take charge of their health and fitness. It has encouraged so many introvert women, including me, to run for themselves and hopefully inspire other women to do so as well. As the Pinkathon family keeps growing, it will continue to support the noble cause of Breast Cancer Awareness, and it will continue to encourage women to choose a healthier lifestyle.