Sitting inside the Al-Hamd Fitness Centre in Dharavi, one of Asia's biggest slums, Zoya Shaikh's excitement is palpable. The 15year-old petite shy girl is gearing up for one of the toughest events of her life: A 100km two-day race through the Dandeli forests on the banks of the Kali, comprising mountain biking, trekking, trail running and river rafting. An arduous task, considering that Zoya's maximum has been a 4km run on Dharavi streets or a 400mt splash in the pool.
“I know it is tough, but I am sure I will be able to complete it. I won the 4km Dharavi mini-marathon,“ she says confidently .
“She is a natural athlete.We spend long hours in the swimming pool. We have the required stamina,“ says her brother Aman, a year older, who is also participating in the Young India Adventure Racing Championship.
“This is the first time in India's history such an event is being organised,“ says Gen (Retd) J J Singh, former chief of Army staff and president of Adventure Racing Federation of India (ARFI), which is conducting the championship. “We want children to step out and connect with Nature. It not only teaches them survival skills, but also helps in personality development,“ says Gen Singh.
Zoya and Aman aren't the only kids from Dharavi competing against 20-odd teams from across the country , including two from NDA. Joining them will be 20-year-old Mohammad Ishaq and 18-year-old Manish Kumar. Tailors by day , Ishaq and Manish are not new to running. They have completed full marathons, most recent being the Indira Marathon in Allahabad.
It has been a long journey for Dharavi Devils team, one which “wouldn't have been possible without Asgar sir.“For, 36-year-old engineercum-entrepreneur Asgar Husain Shaikh has braved the rough and tumble of slum life to organise Independence Day celebrations and conduct sports events. “I wanted to make the kids aware of the rich history of the freedom struggle, which isn't taught in madrassas and inculcate in them a feeling for the nation. I also wanted them to understand the importance of fitness, so I conducted a mini-marathon to test their fitness level,“ says Asgar. At this mini-marathon with 500 children participating, Capt (Retd) Shivaji Mahadkar, vice-president of ARFI, threw them a challenge to compete against the best in the country . Asgar and his team were thrilled to take it up. “We wanted to prove that kids from Dharavi are no less,“ he says.
The Dharavi Devils aren't nervous nor do they see the 100km race as big hurdle. “The biggest obstacle was to convince my mother.Once that was done, the rest was easy ,“ says Zoya.