By Swati Pant
Kolkata– Anjali Saraogi is the first Indian woman to have run the complete 89 km stretch of the Comrades Marathon — the world’s oldest annual ultra-marathon between the cities of Durban and Pietermaritzburg in South Africa — and won the Bill Rowden Medal for the effort.
This mother of a teenaged daughter is 43 — an age when many athletes hang up their boots — and has proven yet again that age is just a number.
Saraogi took to the road when her 18-year-old daughter Mamta encouraged her to participate in a city marathon two years back. She finished first, much to the joy of Mamta and the other family members.
Saraogi then realised how much she enjoys running — and vowed to continue till as long as she could.
She is now firm in her belief that no dream is too big if women can overcome the impediment of fear.
“Women usually undermine themselves. In my opinion, our fears are our greatest limitations. And we should spend more time living with our dreams than our fears,” Saraogi said.
“I thought of starting an international career after I came second the same year at the Mumbai Half Marathon, the first international running event I participated in,” she explained.
However, her life on the road has not always been that smooth. Her career as an athlete received a major blow when she was injured while preparing for the Chicago Marathon earlier this year.
“Early this year when I was preparing for my dream Chicago Marathon, I got injured and the doctor said I won’t be able to ever run,” said the Saraogi, who runs a medical diagnostic centre with her husband.
Talking about her fight to get back on track, she said: “While recovering, when one day I was feeling downcast, one of my friends gifted me Amit Seth’s book ‘Dare to Run’. He was the first Indian to have completed the Comrades Marathon in 2009 and received the Spirit of Comrades Award last year. His book inspired me to fight on despite my injury.”
Asked about the challenges she had to overcome, Saraogi said: “My father and my husband were very concerned about my health when I took this challenge because I was very new to this. But looking at my consistency, they started supporting me in the end.”
She also started taking very good care of her health, unlike most women in India who neglect themselves after a certain age.
“Since my childhood days, I was plump. That made me feel insecure. Nobody ever thought I could run. But I chose to overcome my insecurity, and proved everybody wrong.”
“Nowadays, girls think being lean is being healthy. I choose to differ. I think what is most important is that you should be fit, irrespective of your body shape”.
What is her advice to every woman in the country? “We should always keep health as our priority at any point of their life,” she replied.
Now, Saraogi has set a target with her family’s support to beat her own time record and finish the downhill race in next year’s Comrades Marathon. And, may be some day, “I will run the Comrades Marathon with my daughter”.