Byline: Crank India South Bureau
Dr. Meera Velankar, 40 a PhD in Life Sciences lives in a posh locality in the new Bengaluru that is Whitefield with her husband Harshad Velankar and two lovely daughters. She is originally from Mumbai and has previously worked at various organizations as Chief Microbiologist and Scientist for various time periods. After relocating from the USA in 2011, her stay there and the need to adjust back to India struck a few chords inside of her and she has not been the same since. Crank brings you an exclusive story on one of India’s most inspirational female endurance athlete.
Meera looks like any other devoted housewife. But, when she is not packing lunch for her daughters or finding her husband’s missing tie, she is out setting Limca records in the field of cycling and other endurance sports. And she does all this despite the stigma that challenges Indian married women. Meera is the manifestation of inspiration to Indian riders and she has even proved it by supporting other women to grow in the field of endurance sports.
Her tryst with cycling started with her hate towards sitting idle and waiting for the right job opportunity. She had experienced a different kind of cycling while at the USA and at her first opportunity here at the Great Malnad Challenge in 2011, she managed to finish 850kms in a matter of 9 days on a simple bicycle. She started improving on her skills and training to set a better timing for whatever came her way next. And the Tour of Nilgiris came her way in 2012, a 800kms ride done across 7 days. Meera not only finished the race, she places second in the Women’s category.
The idea of being on a bicycle for really long duration triggered her nerves to believe that it holds a different level of joy to the mind, heart and soul. Meera began riding brevet style races across the country, improving both her stamina and now paying attention to the bicycles and other equipment she was using. She was honing herself to move from being a savage rider to a more cultured sportsperson. And her research background only added to this methodical approach of hers. With the goal in sight, the journey from third place at the Desert 500 Ultra Cycling in 2012 to becoming a Super Randonneur in 2013 was simply rewarding to Meera. To accomplish the Super Randonneur (SR) Meera had to complete day and night continuous rides of 200kms, 300kms, 360kms, 400kms and 600kms within the stipulated time in different states of the country in a single year. She chose the states of Delhi, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra.
She did not stop there. She could not. She now had a new purpose to life. To outdo herself! With better equipment, diet modulation and rigorous training, Meera managed to bag the title of Super Randonneur again in 2014 making her one of 4 Indian women to ever achieve this title and the first ever woman to achieve it twice. Her achievements in cycling continued, she went on to becoming the first woman rider in India to finish a Fleche in 2013, podium finish at the Mysore state level race, received the Distance Award from IISC Randonneurs club for 2012-2013 for cycling a total of 2060.5 Km in 2012-2013. She even tried her hand at Bangalore’s favourite DH track, Turahalli and set herself a record for being the fastest woman on that track.
Her achievements so far were in no manner small. But with the continued support of her family and friends, she started to aim for bigger targets. Not knowing how to swim had always stopped her from enjoying it. But the new found confidence from cycling helped her understand that putting the mind to it is the first step in getting things done. She took up swimming classes, learnt the sport, got good at it and then hit the triathlon scene with her first successful finish at the Hyderabad triathlon in 2014 and then again at the First Mountain Tritahlon NEF Endrure. In her search for new proving grounds, she found the 70.3 Half Ironman in Malaysia, training hard for about 6 months for close to 8 hours a day helped her finish the race.
Meera later on formed the first all female triathlete team and entered the Limca book of records. The inspiration of being in a team with other women, helped her realize the magnitude of what she wsa doing. Her efforts then went on to support a fellow lady going through her own battles and crisis. Meera helped boost Sheetal Bamblukar’s self confidence and to gain a sense of achievement by helping her complete a 200kms BRM on a tandem bicycle making them the first Indian women to achieve this and get onto the Limca book of records. Sheetal now is Meera’s accomplice to achieving many more accolades in these sports.
Meera’s accolades won her a lot of sponsorship and support from various brands and friends. She has been sponsored and employed as a consultant with Trek Firefox, She was sponsored her bicycle by Merida, Nike sponsored her shoes for her running and training, she even bagged equipment sponsorship from Garmin.
With all of this going for her, she has never once neglected her family. Her conservative husband has his own manner of supporting her endeavours. He is always concerned about Meera’s safety while she is on one of her events and says to her, ” I will not be able to take care of two girls alone so be safe and come back.” as he understands that is impractical to always accompany or support her. It has taken Harshad some time to get used to idea of his wife being out on a bicycle on the highways that can become dangerous in India. He has previously raised concerns about Meera’s attire too. But her success and continued passion for the sport has earned his trust and support. He has really warmed up to the idea of endurance cycling and expressed relief every time Meers is back from an event by saying, “So now you do not have to go anywhere , at least for few months?”
Meera with all respect for her responsibility of creating and nurturing her family finds racing her way of being in tune with her individuality and makes it her way of connecting with herself more than disconnecting with everyone else and responds to her husband, “If am alive I will call you, if I am not alive someone else will call you, so relax!” This passion is what has resulted in her achievements and her passion is what drives her to do everything that she does in her life whether racing or raising her children. The fruits of this passion is her Super Randonneuse title and she wears that proudly as a very creative tattoo on her sleeve.
She has chalked herself a new milestone which is International Super Randonneur (ISR) where she has to finish rides of 200kms, 300kms, 400kms and 600kms BRM each in four different countries. So far around 86 people in the world have done it and only 6 are women and none of them are Indian. With one SR under her belt already and one of the qualifying rides accomplished in India, Meera is out to secure her second out of the four qualifying rides on the 28th May, 2016 at Surin, Thailand. Such an attempt can become a logistical nightmare to secure papers, authorizations and plan the itinerary in advance to keep costs low and Meera is willing to put herself through this and more to see it till the end.
With her ways of supporting her purpose, she encouraged women to form the first all women triathlete team in India, helped women like Sheetal Bambulkar realize their potential and use endurance sports to help deal with intense personal times and give more to look forward to in life. Meera Velankar and her very adjusted and balanced lifestyle is often admired upon by her peers and other women her age and situation, but seldom does she see these women acting on taking up these additional roles and initiate self satisfaction. Meera would like to spread the message through this article, that women can and should do what they like to and making your mind is the first step towards accomplishing it and moreso to get support for accoomplishing it.
The Crank team wishes Dr. Meera Velankar all the best in her International Super Randonneur attempt and wishes she receives all the support she might need for such a task.