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In Conversation With Reema Sanghvi- Co-founder, Pinkathon- India's Biggest Women Run

By Banani

3 February, 2018

India is moving towards a better future. Women who are considered the game changer of a family, as well as the society, are breaking the shackles to run. They are taking charge of their own self, their own health. This changing thought is empowering millions of women in the country. This has been made possible with the introduction of Pinkathon-India's biggest Women's run. To know more about this initiative BananiVista had a tete-a-tete with Reema Sanghvi, co-founder Pinkathon where she shares interesting insights about this huge event.   BV: What led you to join Pinkathon? Why did you choose running to help prevent Breast Cancer? Reema: An initiative by the United Sisters Foundation and promoted by Maximus MICE & Media Solutions Pvt. Ltd., Pinkathon is India’s biggest women’s run today. Over 100,000 women have participated in the year 2017 across 8 cities. Pinkathon empowers and encourages Indian women by promoting fitness & health amongst them. It aims to create awareness for Breast Cancer, Bone health, Thyroid disorder and other issues relating to women’s health.   Pinkathon-India’s biggest women’s run was conceptualised and founded by Milind Soman and me back in 2012 in Mumbai where about 2000 women participated. We discovered that one of our closest friends Ms. Devieka Bhojwani had suffered breast cancer not once but twice. We further realized that she hadn’t shared her ailment with anyone besides the doctor and her husband. Even her children were unaware. She chose not to disclose the information at that point in time because of a variety of societal and emotional issues.   Reema Sanghvi Reema Sanghvi   We felt the need to do something about breast cancer, to spread the awareness of the disease, do the health check-ups regularly and make women talk about it openly. Milind then told me that we must do an all women's run to spread the awareness about breast cancer.   We envisaged that running for women will be a great activity as it not only promotes well-being but also raises immunity levels and improves health, and helps protect against diseases like cancer. It will help women to focus on themselves and stay fit which is half the battle won for cancer. His strong belief in the fact that women would come out of their homes and run, made me produce the first ever Pinkathon. As his friend and trusted partner for several years now, I believed in his vision and we co-founded Pinkathon like most of our other ventures.   BV: How Pinkathon is helping those women who know about their condition of Breast Cancer but are keeping quiet as they think it will drain their family's resources? Reema: Pinkathon touches and transforms the lives of women across diverge age-groups, strata of the society and differently abled or suffering various ailments including physical and mental. It is inclusive and non-judgemental.   Pinkathon organises a lot of initiatives as a precursor to the main day event. One of the unique events is the Cancer Shero Trek for the cancer survivors. This event is dedicated to felicitating these inspiring people. Starting with a trek, this event felicitates the inspiring Cancer Survivors honouring them with an “I Inspire” medal.   With Mann Kaur who is the Pinkathon Mascot With Mann Kaur who is the Pinkathon Mascot   One of the cancer survivors is announced as the mascot for the 5KM category run and is presented with the first bib. This helps other women to open up and share their stories. The biggest motivation for them is acceptance by all. We have had cases of women participating in the run while going through chemo-therapies. When these inspiring stories are shared across social media it becomes a source of encouragement. As one-of-a-kind initiative, every single participant can choose to avail of a free gynae-consultation or a free Mammogram if the participant is above 45 yrs. of age, the same is also transferable from our Healthcare partner.   Women's International 10k run Women's International 10k run   BV: Have Pinkathon able to touch the lives of rural women? If yes, would you like to share few anecdotes? Reema: As mentioned earlier, Pinkathon is for all women. We do not differentiate between urban and rural women. We encourage participation of underprivileged girls through various NGOs, BMC schools and visually as well as hearing impaired girls through their respective associations. We sponsor their participation and facilitate donation or sponsorships from corporates towards this cause. We provide a free nomination for domestic help. They too receive all the benefits attached to the run.   Some of the category winners are under-privileged girls who have got an opportunity to run Pattaya marathon, their first international experience. We have started India Going Pink in various tier 2 & 3 cities to reach out to rural women and facilitate the fitness exposure to them.   BV: What were the challenges you have faced when you and Milind Soman joined hands back in 2012 to start Pinkathon? What are the changes you have seen during these years? Reema: The challenges back then in 2012 were more to do with the fixed mindset of women that they cannot run, or it’s not meant for them.   Women didn’t see the merit then also didn’t want to wake up early and come to the ground. They were worried about the running attires and people making fun of them. This has successfully changed over the last few years. Women have started accepting themselves the way they are and are more open to challenges. They are willing to push the limits, both physically and mentally. They have realized the tremendous benefits of running and that it is meant for all age groups, body types, and backgrounds.   Pink sister concept has worked well and now they train in groups and run in groups. The level of enthusiasm has only gone up which reflects in the numbers especially in the timed categories.   Pink Sister Pink Sister   BV: Pinkathon is more than a marathon. Would you like to educate our readers in the benefits Pinkathon is providing to keep our women fit and healthy? Reema: The concept of the Pinkathon has created on the premise that women are the key to a healthier and fitter society. In the current scenario, women neglect their own health and are encouraged to stay at home. This often made to feel guilty about spending time on themselves. Shockingly, 80% of women, having been told that it may save their life, will not go for a routine medical check-up even if it's free.   The reasons given, even by educated women in an urban background, are that any symptoms will disappear on their own and the body will heal itself. That the time and money required will be better spent on other necessities. The belief is that women's issues are something to be hidden away and best not spoken about. If a woman has a problem, somehow it is embarrassing for the family. The truth is, all diseases can be dealt with in a more effective way if detected in the early stages.   For this, regular screenings are necessary. Most importantly, a basic understanding of body function is necessary and a constant awareness of the changes taking place in the body is required. The best way to increase this understanding and awareness at an individual level is through sport. The biggest obstacle to this is social apathy and sometimes even a social reluctance to prioritise health and fitness. Women need to be encouraged to step out of the home, meet like-minded people and adopt healthy lifestyle practices, especially regular exercise.   Reema with her mom, who passed away on 23rd Jan 2018. Her mom is her inspiration. Reema with her mom, who passed away on 23rd Jan 2018. Her mom is her inspiration.   The advantages are twofold. One is the improvement in the health of the woman and her awareness of lifestyle factors that affect the health of herself and her family, and secondly, inspiring her family, by example, to do the same. Constant and practical awareness of the health pitfalls of modern society can be achieved by experiential education.   The Pinkathon is the only event in India that encourages thousands of women to come together to learn, through experience, and from each other, the positive effects of an active lifestyle. Pinkathon is more than a Marathon. It is the seed of change and the beginning of a movement that is carried forward by a growing community of empowered women across India, who share a belief that a healthy family, a healthy nation and a healthy world begins with empowered women. The first step in empowerment is taking control of your own health, respecting yourself and understanding and celebrating the value you bring to your family and society. Empowerment is not a gift of society; it is a gift you give yourself.   Run in Sarees Run in Sarees   Fitness is liberating. If a culture of regular exercise and fitness must take root in India, our women need to become aware of the benefits of fitness. They need to be able to get out and run, which doesn't happen enough due to various cultural reasons.   BV: Most of our women generally question on how to remain fit in that extra hour on the weekend and get rid of that stress so that it won't have an impact on the entire week? What would you like to suggest them? Reema: It’s not just about exercising, it’s about being active throughout. One has to be conscious of the same or else our sedentary lives will adversely impact our health. Overdoing is also not recommended as the body needs adequate rest. I suggest doing activities one enjoys over the weekend so that it is not a burden and it also breaks the monotony. It could be a family workout session such as swimming or a dance a class where everyone can participate.   Pinkathon Team Pinkathon Team   BV: Yoga and gentle workout always provide them support to remain healthy. How is Pinkathon different in supporting women's fitness? Reema: The idea is to be active throughout and take up any activity in a day for 30 to 40 mins which are enjoyable and helps women to focus and spend that time on themselves. Pinkathon encourages an active lifestyle then it could be yoga, Zumba, trekking, cycling, swimming or running.   BV: What are the events Pinkathon is organizing this year apart from the main Day running event? Reema: We now organize Colors Pinkathon in eight cities. More than 8000 women run at each of these events at the VWash plus 3km, 5km, Tata Salt Lite 10km and 21km distances. They run in running gear but also in sarees, salwar kameez, hijabs or whatever attire they deem fit and keeps them comfortable.   The campaign will be supported by an integrated communication plan which includes several pre-event activities like training runs for babywearing mothers, first-time women runners, and cancer survivors. We have introduced events to encourage running across the strata of the society and age groups as well as differently abled. There will also be an extensive online campaign to reach out to the masses and help the movement grow.   Mothers with their babies in Pinkathon Mothers with their babies in Pinkathon   We have also introduced the traditional attired cycle rally and the Fearless Midnight Run. As a precursor to the main day, the team is organising unique events such as the Cancer Shero Trek for the cancer survivors.   BV: Do Pinkathon involves the participation of men as well? If yes, how? Reema: Yes, it does as Pinkathon ambassadors, volunteers, and pacers. We believe that #HeForShe. We believe that men should be the success of every woman’s health & fitness. Our male ambassadors influence the women in their circles, be it their mothers, sisters, wives, daughters, colleagues or female relatives and get them registered in the runs. We have a male pacer for every 21 km female runners who ensure safety, direction and best running at the event. If men encourage women to take up their health seriously by supporting them and creating a conducive environment, it will have a significant impact on the society.   Reema with her husband Reema with her husband   Our male ambassadors also run city to city ‘Spirit of Pinkathon' run to spread the message and promote fitness amongst women. They are extremely proud and passionate about the cause.   Pinkathon, Reema Sanghvi, BananiVista Reema with her baby   BV: How do you encourage more women to participate in this campaign? Reema: From 2000 women who ran Pinkathon Mumbai in 2012 to over 11000 women participants in Pinkathon Mumbai 2017 in its 6th edition, we certainly have come a long way. Pinkathon celebrates women-hood and creates bonds amongst the Pink Sisters. It’s no longer an annual event, we provide free ‘Pinkathon Forever’ training for women which is absolutely free of cost across various locations in different cities of India throughout the year.   In Mumbai itself, there are 40 training locations conducted by ambassadors. Over 10,000 women are part of the Pinkathon Forever Facebook page. There are various fitness challenges organised and tracked down. Pinkathon also profiles the transformation stories of women on various social media platforms which motivates many to take up running.   In 2016, three women Pinkathon Ambassadors ran from Mumbai to Pune to spread the message and last year in 2017, a group of 20 women from 27 years old to 67 years old ran 100 miles from Mumbai to Pune. Idea is that anyone can run. It’s to enjoy oneself and be active.   BV: Any fitness mantra you personally follow and would like to share? Reema: I have been an athlete since school days. I was awarded the fastest long-distance runner in the 25km category in Oman. I take no sugar. I run regularly, eat right and focus on my overall fitness. Fitness is a mind game. Do what makes you happy but involve yourself in some sort of fitness activity. Take that first step and I promise you will never look back.   Maximus is also doing Mumbai's Largest Cyclothon on 25th February 2018. Interested ones can join the event.   For more interesting stories, follow our digital magazine, Bananivista.