With the blazing heat of the afternoon sun beating down on the Panvel Highway, a young boy dressed in his school uniform cycles his way through heavy traffic. Unbeknownst to his family, he had taken up a part-time job in a local courier service, which involved a lot of cycling and which was also the sole reason he’d taken up that job!
That’s the story of Shailesh Anand Sonawane, a physical education teacher, part-time badminton coach and full-time passionate cyclist who now aims to pedal his way from Mumbai to Sri Lanka!
“My entire family was into sports,” says Shailesh, who has represented Mumbai in football and is now a part-time badminton coach at the Prakash Padukone Badminton Academy. A renaissance man of sorts, his love for cycling has never faded. ”Since the day I got my first cycle, I have never stopped cycling,” he says with an air of pride and gratification.
Where there is a will, there is a way
“I get up at around five in the morning and get my cycling practice in for a couple of hours. Then I go to school to teach the kids. While teaching them, I get my workout done. On returning home, I rest for an hour. Evenings are spent working out with school kids and then I leave for badminton coaching.“
Apart from a strict daily routine, Shailesh also keeps tabs on his nutrition to which he credits his upbringing, “I have always been warned about not eating outside. I have been disciplined enough not to eat anything except home food.”
Not even fever can keep him away
Life has not been a bed of roses for Shailesh, but through it all, his grit and determination has shone through. He has been battling a persisting problem of bone fever since childhood, which has led to him being hospitalized on several occasions. He recalls one such incident, “This happened three years ago. The cycling tournament ‘Rugged Sahyadri’, was in Kolhapur. It was a testing journey through the dark of night before and I came down with fever. I hoped I’d be fine by the morning of the event but I was still down.
Halfway through the journey, I thought of giving up because the fever was taking a toll on me. We were in the middle of a torrential rain. But I said to myself that even If I give up, I will still have to take my bike to the finish line. I had Shane next to me and he kept telling to push myself and it can be done. Just seeing him by my side, I realized I have my best friend with me, so there is no trouble. I finished the race and as it turned out, I finished in third place.”
He humbly credits his family and also, friend Shane Hines for having his back all along. “I used to face a lot of problems while paying the entry fees for the tournaments I wanted to play in. Even if I used to manage the entry fees, it was a struggle to take care of the food and travel expenditure. My parents supported me a lot but there are times that Shane, my college friend who now lives in Pune, helped me. Even today, we go into competitions together. He is an all-rounder as well, playing football and hockey primarily.”
Foot on the pedal
“I have a dream to compete in the Tour de France,” says Shailesh ambitiously. But for now, he plans to ride his bike to Sri Lanka. “I want to cycle from Mumbai to Sri Lanka from December to January. I watch the Tour-de-France and that just sparks something within me to go out there and take these long rides. I often leave for Pune unplanned on my cycle. I am constantly training for the event. I am working on my endurance and trying to be extremely fit for the event. At the moment my daily target is to cycle 150 km per day. It will take me about 30 days to complete the journey. I have charted a route that goes through Kolhapur to Karnataka and on to Rameswaram.” he says with some conviction.
For someone who battles a severe medical condition, Shailesh has pushed himself way beyond limits. To which he says, “I just have one thing to say to anyone who wants to pursue sports, and that is to stay focused on your goal until the end. There will many times when the tide will be against you but don’t compromise on your goals. Rather, keep pushing.”