Gautam Raja: Riding for Charity
May 24th, 1974: The first person in this world to see me is Dr. Sita Bhateja, the beloved obstetrician who my mother still talks about with great fondness.
Thirty eight years later, I hear Dr. Bhateja is still very much at work, and I meet her son, Dr. Arvind Bhateja. I join his cycling team (Spectrum Racing) and we ride and train together. Since then, I’ve spent many hours with the gang and (in true Spectrum tradition) had many laughs and discussions over idlis and chow-chow bhath.
It’s because of this history that I was so proud to represent Spectrum and Sita Bhateja Speciality Hospital (Sita Bhateja Speciality Hospital) as a charity rider at the 2013 Tour of Nilgiris (TfN). I’ve been following this epic annual event for some years now, but it was only in 2012 that I could finally ride it. It was even better than I expected – beautiful scenery, great climbs and the camaraderie that comes from spending 10 days with a bunch of cyclemad people from across the country and world.
This time, being a charity rider meant I was charged with raising funds for the charitable wing of Sita Bhateja Speciality Hospital. (I’d like to say a big thank you to friends and family who unhesitatingly donated generous amounts of money to the cause.)
The best part of TFN is that you have no worries beyond riding, eating and sleeping. There are stations all along the route with food, water and drinks, luggage is transported from one hotel to the next and there’s medical and physiotherapy support (from Sita Bhateja Speciality Hospital and Spectrum Physio – a partner of Sita Bhateja Speciality Hospital).
TFN attracts all kinds of riders – relatively new cyclists on hybrid cycles, the odd rider on a mountain bike and a host of road cyclists, from casual weekend riders to highly trained international athletes. Every kind of cyclist will find a gang of like-minded (and like-speeded) souls, and it’s amazing to watch how quickly these groups form.
TFN has a set of competitive sections spread over its seven riding days. Each of these works in the individual time trial format, meaning each rider starts alone, racing against the clock. Last year, I placed
third in the masters category (riders aged 35 and older), and was able to defend my position this year. My Spectrum teammate Vicki Nicholson did even better coming first in the women’s category (across
all age groups).
And like last year, teammate Venky Navanasi was the official blogger, who put in a monster performance by riding hard all day, and writing detailed blog posts by night.
The charitable wing of Sita Bhateja Speciality Hospital offers pro bono care that ranges from simple flu treatment to advanced brain surgery for people who are unable to pay their medical bills. And it’s not some B group of trainees that are assigned to this. Pro bono care patients have access to the same doctors and surgeons and medical facilities as other patients.
So even without my personal connection with Sita Bhateja Speciality Hospital, I was pleased to be able to raise funds for this. Cycling has improved my life in so many ways, but the most important of these is to connect me back to my body. I hadn’t realised how far we’d drifted apart (me and my body) in all those years of neglect.
Staying active into middle and old age is one of my hobby horses now. I’m sure I’m not alone in despairing at how much loved friends and family lose quality of life to simple inattention. It is now known that a huge part of the decline we attributed simply to old age is actually due to disuse. Dust it off and get it out there – perhaps I’ll see you on TFN 2014?
By Gautam Raja