Sikkim's fondness for running serves to blur social barriers

Sikkim's fondness for running serves to blur social barriers
Photo Credit: Sikkim NOW!

Marathons and running in Sikkim has always seen maximum interest by the public than other track events, gaining momentum as more and more of these events become associated with philanthropy and community engagement. It may be the only time there are no barriers between age, gender, sexuality and class - the simplicity of moving in a set route with several people has a unifying effect on the citizenry. 

Marathon as an event was recognized in 1896 when the first Olympics was held at Athens, included into the games in memory of a legendary messenger who ran a distance about 40km to bring the news of Athenian victory over Persians in 490 BC.

The myth that precedes philanthropy marathons and runs for causes in the modern world may not have had a happy ending since the messenger is reported to have died from exhaustion on arrival, it does not mean that the spirit of relaying an important message was overlooked. 

Sikkim has seen various charity marathons, organized with the motive to create some form of awareness among the people. For example, Run with Doctors for TB Free Sikkim, Press Club (West) Marathon for victims of the Kerala flood etc. 

The Run with Doctors for TB free Sikkim was organized by the Doctors Academic Society of Singtam Hospital (DASSH) in 2018 to create awareness about tuberculosis for Sikkimese public. With over 500+ participants, it was a massive event. The 15 km run witnessed 83 years old Phumpi Lepcha as its oldest runner and 8 years old Norpun Lepcha as the youngest.

Similarly, the charity run for victims of the Kerala flood, which was organized by Press Club of West Sikkim and Nirmal Dentam Sanitation Society with support from ultra-marathoner Amar Subba at Gayzing West Sikkim, saw more than 200 participants and over INR 50000 was raised.

It is not only organizations who organize these events. Run for Reeya, a charity run was singlehandedly started by Dichen Ongmu Bhutia, a journalist at Sikkim Express, to support a  young footballer diagnosed with cancer and admitted at a hospital in Delhi. More than 170 participants ensured the success of this event. 

L-R: Usha Somand, Ankita Konwar, Dichen Ongmu and Bharati Gurung at the 7th Darjeeling Hill Marathon, 2020.

“This has been my major achievement as the run was successful, people from various backgrounds participated and we collected a suitable amount of funds to help Reeya,” said Bhutia. “I was lost, depressed and I was not satisfied with my life, as I wanted to avoid medication I thought of running,” she said.

She has participated in various charity runs like Gangtok Road Runners, Run for Tuberculosis, Pinkathon, Run for Animals by Guardians, Darjeeling Hill Marathon and six virtual runs. She adds, “I am more of a charity runner than a professional, I don’t take running professionally but it’s for my self-satisfaction.”

Even animal-lovers have found similar success. Run for Animals 2019, a 10km run organized by Guardians Sikkim with the theme of “Adopt don’t Shop”, the event was organized with a motive to give attention to the stray animals rather than buying and owning one. It witnessed more than 150 participants.

It’s not only Sikkim that runs high on marathons. The recent 7th Darjeeling Hill Marathon 2020, organized by Darjeeling Police saw more than 2000 people from various states in India, including Sikkim. One of its most famous participants from Sikkim was Amar Subba, who secured 3rd place in the 45+ category.

Amar Subba from West Sikkim currently holds the title of ‘Marathon man of Sikkim’, having participated in a long list of various state and national-level marathons. Most notably, he has achieved a place in the LIMKA Book of records after running a 440km solo marathon along the Himalayas in 2012. Despite starting his career in his 40s, his achievements are nothing short of remarkable. “I was on the streets literally at some point in the past but this road has now given me identity and respect,” says Subba. 

Besides competition, he also runs to spread awareness about HIV AIDS, Tuberculosis, mental health and to raise funds for people who need it.

In 2019, he ran a marathon organized by Sikkim Limboo Youth Association and Press Club of Sikkim for Bandana Limbo, who had been diagnosed with leukaemia. More than 20 athletes, including the likes of Sanju Pradhan and Bikash Jairu, ran from Singtam to MG Marg Gangtok. 

“For me, charity runs are vital, as I have seen a lot of struggle in life to achieve what I have today. I do charity runs so that I could contribute in whatever way I can to people,” he asserts.

Similarly, Bharati Gurung a runner who started her journey in 2014 when she ran her first half marathon in the Sikkim Run, took it up professionally after 2018. She states that almost every event she has participated in has been for a cause, “so more than half of the runs I’ve completed has been for charity”.

She appeals to young people not to wait. “Don’t wait for tomorrow, get up and start - half the battle is won. Running is like an addiction once you get hooked to it its difficult to stop, just remember it’s always mind over body. Train your mind and let the body be your slave.”

By Sherab Palden Bhutia. The author is a freelance writer. He can be contacted at paldenborges015@gmail.com.

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