Endurance cyclist Meera Velankar in quest of ‘unique’ success in Tandem Biking and IronMan

An urge to be in a unique minority as well as a scientific temperament drives the Bengaluru-based mother of two to think up different ways to indulge her passion for endurance cycling.

This cyclist completed the gruelling Tour of Nilgiris in 2011; picked up National Super Randonneur awards by cycling a series of brevets over 200km, 300km, 400km and 600km in 2013 and 2014; gained the tag of Half IronMan in April 2015 when she completed the challenge – 1.9km swim, 90km biking and 21.1km running – at Putrajaya in Malaysia, and she endured the pain of a DNF on the Tandem Bicycle at the Thailand 300 BRM in Nakhon Pathom last year.

Yet, Meera Velankar wants to do more. Over the past year, she has experimented with Tandem Biking and is now attempting to earn the honour of being part of perhaps the first Indian tandem team to gain the Super Randonneur award. “It helps to be different, and perhaps unique, so that I am in a small minority as I achieve my sporting dreams,” Meera says, also revealing that she aspires to complete an IronMan this year.

“To be honest, Tandem Biking, is like marriage,” Meera says, matter-of-factly. “If you are in sync with your partner – both emotionally and physically – it is great; or else it is a terrible thing. You have to train hard for yourself and with your partner so that the comfort level is really high and the best results are obtained. The 25kg machine teaches you team-work.”

Clearly, she has learnt from working with each of the three partners. “Thanks to Tandem Biking, I have become more accommodating and got myself not to react fast to situations. I have learnt to have a Plan B ready while managing my resources like time and energy to the optimum,” says the Bengaluru-based mother of two girls, 13 and nine.

“My ambitions, my scientific background and the corporate job that I could not get have all combined to make me the cyclist I am. Yes, I have not continued as a microbiologist but I like to pursue excellence in all that I do. Yes, I have evolved as a person and have been able to create an identity of my own despite being a late starter and despite not being the fastest on two wheels.”

Having returned to India after stints in Africa and the United States, the post-doctoral student of microbiology fell back on cycling to help her with the transition. “It also helped me rediscover my own identity besides being wife and mother,” she says of an inner journey that came along with the hours spent on road. She spends hours researching events and prepares her plans accordingly.

Meera grins in response to a question about the pain barrier that endurance athletes breach. “For someone who has been through two C-sections, the aches caused by cycling or running are no comparison. I think that and the trauma that one can face in everyday life enhances a woman’s capacity to endure the pain that Ultraman athletes perhaps face,” she says.

Her persuasive skills were most apparent when she convinced a fellow rider to forgo some sleep during her 600km brevet ride near Delhi in August 2013. “When the only other lady rider dropped out, I was faced with a do-or-die situation. I had to convince one rider to be on the road from midnight to 5-00 a.m. so that I could complete the distance within the stipulated time,” she recalls.

She had to pretend to be part of an army cycling expedition when a well-meaning old man stopped her on the National Highway from Agra to Delhi and advised her against being on the road in the dead of the night. “His caring nature brought a smile to my face and encouraged me to pedal on, the desire to finish before the cut-off being the only thought on my mind then,” she says.

Meera insists that when she is on a brevet or in a competitive event, her mind is focused only on what she needs to do. “I have been fortunate that my husband, Harshad, holds the fort in my absence,” she says, her voice full of gratitude. “I know it’s not easy for him to manage the home front but it is such unstinting support that encourages me to drive on.”

She keeps reminding herself that her next DNF (did not finish) result would spell an end to her tryst with endurance cycling – and with her IronMan aspirations. Therefore, crossing the finish line rather than just turning up at the start becomes a priority. “There can be no better learning than this,” she says, insisting that no job should be left incomplete so that it does not need to start from scratch again.

Meera hopes that in addition to its sheer beauty, India will become a better and safer place for long-distance bicycling enthusiasts. “It is heartening that the number of lady riders is growing and that they can pick groups to ride with,” says the 41-year-old who now helps edit a cycling magazine and shares her knowledge by helping rookies pick the right bicycles.

“Endurance cycling has taught me not to stop,” she says, always being driven by the urge to be in a small bunch of people who are unique and do things differently, even while managing the routine. The go-getter’s bicycling experience will inspire everyone around to ask themselves: “So, which sport do you plan to use to express your own uniqueness?”

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