On Sunday, as Shehnaz Sheikh navigated the route of the Mumbai Marathon’s wheelchair event, she carried the hopes of 650 students on her shoulders.
The 45-year-old lung cancer survivor and her team of 15 members from the Ismail Education Trust, a girls’ school in Masjid, made their marathon debut this year.
Sheikh participated in the wheelchair event to spread the cause of educating the girl child.
“We are having a huge problem raising funds to buy land to extend our school,” said Sheikh, who has also written to the President of India, about the issue. Of the 300 participants in the wheelchair event, Perila Sheth, 33, was the last to register. She was just glad to have been able to do so in time. “I am not here to propagate a cause or support any NGO; I am only here to test my endurance and inner strength,” said Sheth, who had always wanted to participate in a marathon but got around to doing it for the first time only this year.
“John Abraham shook my hand. He is my favourite,” said Riddhi Gada, 19, a cerebral palsy patient who wore her best pink dress for the event, and was participating in the event for the fifth year in a row.
While some participants were happy to be a part of the mega marathon, others like Bangalore-based Harish Rao rued the lack of competitive edge. As Rao completed the 2.7 km wheelchair run on his specially designed sports wheelchair, he wished that the organisers gave wheelchair participants the option to participate in the regular competitive races as well.
“The Bangalore marathon has a separate event for professional paralympic wheelchair runners, who don’t require attendants to push them,” said Rao, 23, who claims he ranked first for three years in his city. “Here it is not competitive, and amidst all the crowd I could not speed up,” he said.