Sayuri Dalvi – Running against all Odds

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Friday, 30 October 2015 1216 Views 0 Comments
Sayuri Dalvi – Running against all Odds

By Varsha R. Meghani

The simple act of running helped Sayuri Dalvi overcome the pain of a broken marriage, and embrace her son’s autistic condition, to emerge as a Champion Marathoner.

“You better win the gold medal only,” warned Vihaan, firmly outstretching his index finger. His eyes were fixated on his mother as she was readying to leave for the Durshet half marathon, in rural Maharashtra. “Silver or bronze won’t do. Do you understand?” he reiterated slowly.

Sayuri Dalvi followed her 11-year-old’s strict instructions with ease, returning home with the coveted gold. Winning has become a habit for Dalvi who has competed in over 60 marathons, half marathons and 10k races over the last eight years, achieving podium finishes, more often than not. Her quickest half marathon is a lightning-fast 1 hour 38 minutes, while her 42km personal best record stands at 3 hours and 46 minutes.

But what happens if Dalvi doesn’t return with the gold? Her face lights up, she flashes her brilliant smile and says “If I don’t win, Vihaan says, ‘Okayyyy…never mind. Try better next time!’”

Mature words for an 11 year old, one might think. But that’s not all. Vihaan is also autistic, and struggles with his speech and activities of daily living, that other children take for granted. This means that Sayuri Dalvi spends a large part of her day catering to the unique needs and demands of her son. How then does she manage to keep up her running record? That she is a single parent, who went through a difficult, abusive marriage, only makes the question more pertinent.

Dalvi took to running in 2006 as a means to release her bottled up feelings of shock, pain, anger and frustration. At that time, her son had just been diagnosed with autism – a condition she had never heard of; her marriage, which had been on tenterhooks for a while, was on the verge of a complete breakdown. “Why me? Why my son?’, she’d ask herself repeatedly, often howling and crying herself to sleep.

Thankfully, she soon found the solace she was looking for. “I started going to the gym and found that running helped me overcome my thoughts and emotions,” explained Dalvi. But the thought of transitioning from the treadmill to the road never occurred to her. Then one day, as if by divine intervention, the gym was shut for repair work. “I didn’t want to miss my run,” she said, “So I decided to run outdoors.” Running in the open freed her mind and lifted her spirits in a way that running within closed confines, had not. She felt liberated, as though the shackles that were weighing her down had suddenly snapped. Ever since, road running has become her antidote in times of stress and trouble.

Subsequently, she ran her first half marathon in 2007. “Vihaan is my source of inspiration,” she reveals. “There’s so much he teaches me. He keeps me grounded,” she says, making it clear to see that in a strange twist of fate, Dalvi doesn’t simply support her son, but actually gains strength from him. He often shows off his mother’s medals to his friends at school, taking pride in her achievements.

Dalvi’s real strength however, is her attitude. She isn’t one to subscribe to sympathy or sentimentality. “I look at everything that has happened to me as a lesson,” she explains matter-of-factly. “I have no regrets. In fact, I’m thankful. It’s because of my circumstances and the people in my life that I am stronger today.”

It’s this positive attitude that sees Dalvi through the many marathons she takes part in, despite minimal training. Hers is truly a case of mind over muscle. She doesn’t follow a fixed running schedule, like most serious runners do, nor does she enhance her running routine with tempo runs or interval training. “I don’t have that much time to be honest,” she confides. After Vihaan leaves for school at 7am, she gets on with her household chores and other work, which she wraps up by noon. It’s then that she either runs up and down a 1km long road, close to her house in Mulund, or stops by her local gym for some weight training. Once her son is back from school at 4pm, she pours all her time and attention into him. On a normal day, Dalvi wakes up at about 5am, and winds down by about 11pm. Sunday is the only day in the week when she religiously devotes a morning to a long run, of about 21-25kms. “I have made some very special friends through running, and I look forward to meeting them on Sundays,” she beams.

Just like her runs, Sayuri Dalvi’s journey is a long and winding one. It began much before the starting line, and will end far beyond the finish line; but it is a journey that is rich in lessons. Not just for her, but for all of us.


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