His interest lay in tennis, but a kidney transplant forced Rajesh Devaraj to give up the sport.Unfazed, he took to cycling, participating in major local and international events
Six years ago, Rajesh Devaraj underwent a kidney transplant. As his mother was the donor, Devaraj's body received the new organ without much protest. After six months of intense medication and bed rest, he was back on his feet.
“I had regained strength and was fit enough to run,” says Devraj. Encouraged, Devaraj returned to tennis, a passion since his teenage years. “I was a university and club-level player in my younger days,” recalls Devaraj. “Being able to play tennis as well as I ever had, I considered myself immensely lucky.”
His joy was however short-lived. He developed excruciating hip pain and had to stay off the courts. “The hip problem was a side effect of post-transplant treatment. I was diagnosed with bilateral avascular necrosis — three to four per cent of those who are on long-term steroid treatment develop this condition. As tennis involved considerable use of the hip, I had to give it up. For physical activity, I had to choose between swimming and cycling because neither places much load on the hip.”
When his neighbour went on a Tiruvanmiyur-to-Mahabalipuram cycle ride, organised by Chain Reaction, Devaraj took a chance and went cycling. “It was not easy, but I managed the distance,” says Devraj. He was hooked on cycling and went in for a high-quality road bike and began to hang out with cycling enthusiasts.
A regular at races for amateurs, conducted by Chain Reaction and the Tamil Nadu Cycling Club, he invariably finished in the top five. He was looking for bigger challenges when he chanced upon an announcement about the 2011 World Transplant Games (WTG) in Sweden. A biennial sporting event for those who have undergone organ transplants, WTG is an effort at encouraging organ donation. Countries have federations that select sportsmen and send them to WTG. Devaraj enrolled with the All India Transplant Games Federation and trained hard for the international competition. It lasted six months and was more intense than his cycling routine which includes “three weekday rides adding up to 100 km and two weekend rides adding up to 150 km”.
In June 2011, Devaraj arrived in Goteborg (Sweden) to represent India in cycling. “In the races involving the local boys — organised in the run-up to the main one — I would finish first or second. But I was outclassed by cyclists from the United States and other countries in the main race, where I finished 13th out of 24 participants,” says 41-year-old Devaraj. “In 2013, WTG goes to South Africa. I don't know if I will win the race, but I will surely do better than last time.”