“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” goes an old proverb. For Rhea and her daughter Jeeya, a small promise they made in 2018 completed one thousand days today Feb 22, 2021.
Like all promises, this too was easy to make but tough to keep — “Come rain or sunshine, we will run every day for the next 100 days”, that was the deal. They haven’t stopped after 1000 days. You do the math. That’s over 4500 kms of running, without a single day off. When laid on its side, this would exceed three times the distance from Mumbai, her husband’s workplace, to Dehradun in the foothills of Himalayas where they reside.
Rhea is married to former naval aviator and offshore captain Hardeep Singh Arora. His friends and colleagues affectionately call him Kinny. They have two wonderful daughters: Jeeya (16) & Jasleen (20). The girls are thick as thieves. In 2013, Kinny hung his white uniform and the family shifted out of the military cantonment in Colaba, Mumbai to the suburb of Powai. The girls felt the pangs of transition most. Jeeya’s shy and reticent nature meant she spent all her spare time indoors, sending the weighing scale north. At 13, she was 72 kgs, with all of society’s glare and barbs that come with it. Rhea, a graduate in law with impeccable credentials, was always a sporty girl. With all of that backed-up with a diploma in Yoga, Reebok certification as aerobics instructor and many professional endorsements, she threw it all away to raise two adorable girls, one a special child.
I have known Kinny for over 25 years. We have spent six ‘offshore years’ together plus a couple of decades in the navy. Despite my dogged persistence, not once was I ever able to convince Kinny to even step out for a walk, let alone run a few hundred metres. He is a staunch believer of the law of conservation of energy! Avid bikers and travel buffs, the couple have biked across the country, even driving from Mumbai to Ladakh and back — covering 6000 kms over 30 days on a Honda CBR250 while their kids spent weeks in the loving care of relatives.
In due course, the family moved from Mumbai to their home in a gated community ‘Panache Valley’ in Dehradun, Uttarakhand. For Jeeya, the barbs about her ‘fitness’ never ceased. In Prakriti Valley school’s Principal, she found a mentor and motivator. The mother-daughter duo signed up for a ‘Hundred Days of Running‘ (HDOR) challenge with a minimum 2 km/day commitment. Initially, they had to walk-run as Jeeya could barely manage a few hundred metres before running out of breath. Rhea egged her on. Slowly, they increased the duration and distance. Some days were tough; it’s never easy for women in India anyway. Muscles cramped; body ached; mind questioned “why do this at all?”.
But a promise is a promise, especially the one made with your child who sees you as role model. Children can make amazing comebacks if you repose trust in them. Soon, Jeeya started setting the pace as Rhea dropped a lap or two behind. In running, as in life, no two days are alike. One of them took the lead if the other was feeling down. No corners were ever cut. Skipping a run was never an option on the table.
What was the toughest part? How did you manage through monsoons and the CoViD-19 lockdowns?
“The first few days were tough but fun. Then doubts and nagging pains cropped up. The lockdown due to Covid happened about halfway into our journey, by which time our campaign had already gathered steam. Monsoons was no dampener either since we had decided “no excuses”. What we couldn’t do outdoors, we did inside the four walls of our apartment. We devised an indoor track with U-turns, marked with chairs and impromptu props”, Rhea recalls. An apartment in the hills can hardly be a runner’s delight.
Every day at an appointed time, pounding feet resonated through their apartment block. Neighbours and visitors dropping-in to chat were politely requested “Uncle / Aunty, please wait karo. We’ll be right back” till run completion. “We even clocked 5 kms early morning on Karva Chauth“, Rhea beams.
How about winters? It can get really cold in Dehradun…
Winters were hard, Rhea admitted. Some days the temperatures plummeted close to zero. The heaters & comforters at home beckoned while the bleary, frosty landscape outside posed a forbidding contrast. “But we drew warmth & energy from each other. Karna hai toh karna hai yaar (if you gotta do it, you gotta do it, bro)”, Rhea says with typical Punjabi panache. The duo clenched their teeth, did a high-five, and set out into the cold with thermals, ear muffs and headgear.
How did you protect yourselves? Daily running may not be kind on the legs, no?
Coming from her background as a fitness trainer, running was not alien to Rhea. She says: “I knew the basics; it was my beat. We always warmed up and cooled down after the run. Our running gear was carefully chosen. Shoe-type and size are very important. So is technique and preparation. I knew the pitfalls and kept monitoring myself and Jeeya. She displayed amazing resilience and determination. Very soon, she was leading from the front. Today, she clocks 9 kms in under 45 mins; she started by pushing 10 minutes to a kilometre. At the end of the day, we do stretching, massage each other, wear socks and sleep”, Rhea chuckles.
Did you ever doubt or feel like giving up?
“Never. Not once. Both me and Jeeya are very competitive that way. We don’t give up once we set our mind to something, Rhea says with calm and poise.
This is notable. Since the promise was mutual and not publicly announced on social media, it was easy to “cheat” after the initial commitment of HDOR ran its course. The devil must have always been at the door. But they never gave up.
Having surmounted this challenge, what next?
“I think we’ll take it one day at a time. Physical fitness has become integral to our lives now. I don’t think it’s going away anytime soon”, Rhea says.
“It’s all about staying focused and positive. We are all made of the same stardust, right? If they can, we can”, Jeeya chimes in with resoluteness that belies her age. She tells me she took every barb, every criticism, as ‘fuel’ for the ride. She always had a full tank, as I gathered from our brief exchange.
This story is hardly about running. At a meta level, it is about integrity. It’s about making simple promises to oneself and keeping them, come what may. Read as many books or watch all the videos you can, an ounce of action will always match, nay outweigh, a pound of procrastination. There’s integrity at stake in every walk of life. The deepest promises are the ones we make to our own self. Keeping those promises are fundamental to integrity. If you cannot keep small promises made to oneself, how can we expect to keep our word with others? At a time when most of humanity is WFH, glued to screens and keypads, it’s easy for families to drift apart or live in their own virtual bubbles. The ‘new normal’ post pandemic has opened new vistas for some, mental & physical fitness challenges for others. Where we draw the line and how we pull ourselves up may well shape our outcomes.
For Rhea & Jeeya, the long & winding road crossed a 1000-day milestone today; it’s far from over. I wish them many more to come. The lessons can be extrapolated to any walk of life. Determination; willpower; integrity — these are just lofty words, unless you live & breathe them, day after day. Rhea & Jeeya did.
So what’s stopping you from making a simple promise today with a loved one and living it for the next 10,000 days?
‘Hating less and loving more’ sound like a good place to start?
©KP Sanjeev Kumar, 2021. All rights reserved. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on my Twitter handle @realkaypius.
Disclaimer: Please consult your fitness guide, therapist or doctor to choose the type of exercise that suits you. This story is not intended to throw a ‘running gauntlet’ or set up a physical fitness challenge. I have simply tried to bring out the power of making small promises, and, most importantly, keeping them. Stay well, stay safe!