In March 2015, Prerna Choudhury’s world came crashing down when she heard that her younger brother was no more. An adventure freak, Rhishav, then 22, had died doing what he loved most –hiking, this time through the tough canyons of the Arizona desert in the US.
After the first few months of mourning, Prerna, 26, realised she wanted to give a special tribute to her sibling – by participating in a trek. On June 19, this year, she set off on the trip of a lifetime, Gobi March 2016, the arduous foot-race in China conducted as part of famed 4-Desert series. Not only did she complete the challenge as a memorial to her brother on June 26, she also became the first Indian woman under 30 and third Indian woman in all ages to achieve the feat.
Exposed to professional hiking for the first time, Prerna covered 250 kilometres over six days beginning with an ascent to almost 3000 metres of the Tian Shan mountain range in China and ending with an 80 kilometres stage in the harsh Gobi deserts in scorching 50 degree Celsius.
“In January, I wanted to take a break from work and I stumbled upon Gobi March. I thought this would be true tribute to my brother,” said Prerna, a graduate from Oberlin College, Ohio, USA who worked as an analyst with the World Bank till April this year in Timor Leste (East Timor). Before this, she has also worked with an NGO in Brazil and a research organisation in India.
Prerna, who had not run even a half-marathon before, started her training in January. Thankfully for her, Timor Leste where she was based then, had varied terrain ranging from hilly ranges to the beach that helped to build up her endurance.
“I was in touch with running community members there through e mails and other mediums. I paid most attention to training, three weeks before I joined the expedition,” said Prerna, who was born and brought up in Kolkatta and went to Ohio for graduation.
Each day in the seven-day trip was full of challenges, but, Prerna recalls, the 80 kilometres trek over scorching desert on the fifth day when she and other participants almost gave up, was the action-packed of them all.
“I had given up on all hopes, but I had a motivating cause. Somehow we carried on and reached the final check point,” said Prerna who will be joining Duke University, in USA later this month.
Of the 101 participants from 35 countries that began the trek, 88 completed. Prerna was the only Indian in the group.
“Petite Prerna is not the adventurous sort who one would expect to climb mountains and hike over 40 kilometres a day, through numbing rain and blinding sandstorms. She did this with a 10 kg backpack carrying dehydrated food packs, her sleeping bag and other essentials. We are proud of our children,” said her father, Jayonto Choudhuri, two time director general of police in Assam who retired as director general, National Security Group (NSG).
As a token of recognition from the organisers, Prerna was awarded with the Cable-French award for participating for an inspiring cause during the concluding function held at Chaina’s Hami city on June 29.
And the citation summed it up, “Not everyone may know that there is a girl here, who finished something her brother started last year. For those who seek to push their boundaries in search of adventure”.
The 4 Deserts Race Series is widely recognized as the most prestigious outdoor, self supported, footrace series in the world. The series consists of the Sahara Race (Namibia), Gobi March (China), Atacama Crossing (Chile) and The Last Desert (Antarctica).