'There is so much negativity in people's minds.
'I wanted to do my bit to show the world that my country believes in love and that humanity is alive.'
Limca record holder Sufiya Sufee is running from Kashmir to Kanyakumari to share the message of love and brotherhood. This is her inspiring story.
In April 2019, when Sufiya Sufee packed her bags and left her home in Ajmer, Rajasthan for Srinagar in Jammu and Kashmir to embark on a solo running trip across India, she wasn't sure if she would make it to Kanyakumari, India's southernmost tip. Or even get past Delhi.
"I did not have the funds. But I wanted to run. And I didn't want to wait till everything fell in place. I didn't want money to stop me and delay my dream," the 33 year old Limca record holder told Divya Nair/Rediff.com during her halt in Bundi, Rajasthan, nearly 10 days after she started her expedition from Srinagar on April 25.
The long distance runner is on a mission to run from Kashmir to Kanyakumari -- and complete a distance of 4,035 km in 100 days.
Sufiya knew the magnitude of the expedition -- that she would have to run through tiny villages and unexplored roads as early as 5 am. But she did not worry about her safety or accommodation.
In fact, she says, that was the idea.
"I am running for HOPE -- Humanity, Oneness, Peace and Equality. There is so much negativity in people's minds. We read about rape and violence. I wanted to do my bit to show the world that my country believes in love and that humanity is alive. I want to meet different people, listen to their stories and join them in this mission to inspire positivity wherever I go."
Sufiya has had her fair share of struggles but credits her adversities for making her stronger.
She lost her father when she was 16. She was raised by a single mother who inspired her to be independent and strong.
After completing her graduation in arts, Sufiya pursued diploma in aviation and secured a job in Air India in 2008.
In 2017, she started long distance running to improve her fitness only. But in less than two years, she clinched several records including the Limca record for the fastest female traveller on golden triangle on foot covering Delhi-Agra-Jaipur-Delhi by running around 720 km in 16 days.
When Sufiya requested her organisation -- where she had worked for over 10 years -- to sanction her leave so she can go on her dream expedition, the K2K run -- the response wasn't favourable.
"They refused to approve my leave so I had to quit."
In February 2019, she resigned from her job as a duty officer with Air India so she could pursue her dream for running.
"If an organisation doesn't support your dream and passion, it is time to move on. I don't regret the decision," Sufee said.
The former aviation professional who is currently looking for crowdfunding has already invested all her savings so she could accomplish her dream.
Sufiya served three months of notice period which ended in April 2019 even as she continued preparing for the trip where she would run an average of 50 kilometres a day -- 30 kilometres during the day and 20 km in the evening.
"I start at 4.30 am and try to complete 30 km by 7.30 am. Then I have breakfast and rest for some time. If there is an interesting event nearby, I try to attend it. Sometimes, people write to me and we fix up a session. In the evening, I start at 6 pm and finish the remaining 20 km by 9 pm," Sufiya detailed about how she plans her day.
When asked how she stays fit, she said, "I try and eat local food -- rice, dal, roti -- whatever is available. Since it is summer, I drink a lot of water and wear the right gear."
A week after she started her dream run, Sufiya injured her back. She was hospitalised in Jalandhar, Punjab and advised to rest.
The unexpected hospital stay set her expedition back by three days.
"I was very disappointed to be on the hospital bed. I was cursing myself. But there, I met five nurses who were runners themselves. They regularly talked to me and told me that I will be okay. That I shouldn't give up," she says.
Apart from minor injuries for which she is under medication, Sufiya is also short of funds.
Her entire expedition costs Rs 10 lakh and she has raised a little over Rs 2 lakh (through Ketto, a crowdfunding platform), she knows it will not even take her halfway.
Ask her if that worries her and she is quick to point us to the positives.
"It (Rs 2 lakh) could be a small amount but absolute strangers have contributed to my dream. Some of them just want me to continue. Look how many people have come together to believe in my dream. So it's no longer my dream, it is everyone else's now. Isn't that beautiful?"
Sufiya is also thankful to her husband Vikas, a cyclist and trainer who accompanies her driving in a car carrying her equipment and supplies, also guiding her with the route.
"When I started this journey, I didn't know how far it would take me. But I never gave up," she says.
"I didn't have money so I would ask people for help and they would happily let me into their homes, serve food, whatever they could afford to feed."
"I had grown up reading about stone pelting and cases of mob violence in parts of Kashmir. But when I visited Srinagar, I found it peaceful. The people there, especially the women and kids were so encouraging."
The trip, in many ways, according to Sufiya has helped her connect with people beyond barriers of language and traditions.
"In one of the villages in Chandigarh, a woman told me how she fought cancer while taking care of her family. Soon, several other women started sharing their own stories of struggle. At the end of the session, they found support in each other."
"I have travelled through Jammu, Punjab, Haryana, Delhi and Rajasthan so far where men and women, young girls would invite me to talk about my journey and in return they shared their stories. There were people from armed forces who joined me in the run. It was so heart-warming and inspiring."
"I want to tell the people of India that our country is diverse and beautiful. Don't believe everything you read and hear."
"Step out of your homes and comfort zone and go after what makes you uncomfortable. There is so much to see, learn and experience."
"Have an open mind to absorb new ideas, to listen without judging and spread positivity."
"The average Indian youth is misplaced. There is negativity all around and moral values are being compromised. I want to tell our young readers to use their education to question the wrongs (in society) and inspire change in a positive way."
"To the women who are still finding excuses, I urge them to come out of their shells. You can do better than this. You can change your destiny. Find what motivates you and be confident about it. Nothing is impossible."