“I may be the most valuable runner at the marathon,” Deepak Patel says, laughing. That’s because he wears an expensive watch and other jewellery, and since his first Mumbai Marathon on 2006, he invests in top-of-the-line brands for his running clothes and shoes. More seriously, the surgeon says, his biggest investment is in the health of his family.
It started in 2004, when his son, Umang, was on the way. He decided then to take up sports, and tennis seemed like a good idea because it could be a hobby he could later share with his children. Plus, it “strengthens hand-eye co-ordination,” an important attribute for a surgeon. Not content with just playing the game casually, Deepak wanted to get good at it. “I found that some of the best tennis training institutes were abroad, so I trained with the U.S Professional Training Association.” His coach there told him that to get better at the game, he needed to work on his cardiac fitness; his own professional knowledge of anatomy reinforced that.
“Running seemed the perfect way to achieve that,” Dr. Patel says. “So around 2005, I took to running.”
After their son was born, his wife Jyotsna — also a doctor, a gynaecologist — got the bug too. She took up both tennis and running; by 2006, she had a mean backhand and had run her first half-marathon. She says, “Taking up a sport not only helps us in our professional lives, it also works towards one’s wellness: building resilience, keeping calmer even under pressure, and so on.”
Importantly, all these were things they wanted their children to imbibe from the start. Both believe that academic excellence is not enough, that their kids would be happy and whole if they were healthy and fit.
As for their son, Umang, he was enrolled in swimming classes not long after he learned to walk. “Once he started school,” Deepak says, “every summer vacation was spent trying to learn a new activity: gymnastics, skating, running…” By 2008, the couple had a daughter, Urvi. While the 10-year-old is less of a sports fanatic — “Urvi has a creative bent,” Jyotsna says, “and enjoys dancing; she is learning kathakali.” She is also currently learning basketball, and looks up to her mother. “She is motivated by my certificates and medals,” Jyotsna says. “Every time I bring one home, she says she wants to grow up and ‘be a winner’ like me.”
Despite their busy lives, they keep 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. for each other. “That’s when we discuss our day, talk about what is on our mind,” Deepak says. “And the conversation usually touches upon fitness.” Other family time together could be playing a game of tennis or watching sports.
This year, at the Mumbai Marathon, all four of them will be participating: the parents are running the half, and the children are doing the Dream Run (Urvi will be doing it for the first time).
Is there any special preparation they’ve been doing? They don’t all run together, though the parents put in their regular morning runs. That — and for the kids, the exercise from their extracurricular activities — is enough for them to complete their targets, they say.
Behind every successful marathoner, there will be a medallist
It takes a lot to run a marathon, and just being fit enough isn’t all one needs. For almost every runner, encouragement plays a crucial role.
“We conducted large-scale research over the period of a year,” says Chitresh Sinha, CEO of Chlorophyll Innovation Lab. “We found that every marathoner we spoke to was grateful to someone else to keep them going; a daughter, wife, friend, parent.” Their motivators weren’t necessarily runners, but nevertheless provided inspiration.
“We came across a father who said he only completed the marathon thanks to his daughter,” Mr. Sinha says. “He narrated how the birth of his daughter inspired him to give up drinking and take up running, so that he could have the energy and patience for her. We spotted the medal he had won right next to the picture of his baby girl.”
These observations triggered the thinking behind a unique finisher’s medal that will debut for this year’s marathon. The medal splits into two: one side is emblazoned with ‘finisher’ and the other has ‘inspiration’ engraved on it. The idea is that those who run the full 42.195-kilometre distance can formally acknowledge their motivators and share the accomplishment with them.