28 April 2017 | Last updated 07:00 PM

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Tania Roy | Tuesday, 10 January 2017 AT 08:55 PM IST
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This Sunday, Seema Verma will be taking part in Mumbai Marathon along with 42,000 runners. Coming from an underprivileged background and suffering paralysis in the past, this single mom had to overcome many hurdles to pursue her passion, but she never gave up.

As Mumbai gears up for the 14th edition of Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon (SCMM) to be held this Sunday, January 15, 34-year-old Seema Verma laces up her shoes in her chawl in Nalasopara on the outskirts of the city and goes for her practice run before sunrise. She will be running the full marathon — 42 km in the open category (women) in SCMM, one of the biggest marathons in the country, which is expecting more than 42,000 runners to cross the finish line this year.

Verma is not new to long-distance running; she has had several podium finishes in the past. But her big dream is to run at the Olympics some day. Coming from an impoverished background, it hasn’t been easy for Verma to chase her dream. Working as a domestic help to earn her living, she married in her teens, suffered a paralytic attack at 21 and got divorced at 22. “One of my employers encouraged me to run and that’s how it all started,” says Verma who began running in 2012 and still suffers from facial asymmetry — a scar left behind by the paralytic attack which had made her bedridden. But she was determined to get back on her feet. Her right knee is still weak, making it vulnerable to injury and slackening her running pace, but she’s not the one to give up.
Running mantra
Besides running, Verma also has a black belt in karate and has been coaching 4-to 46-year-olds throughout the week. She is also one of the few selected women runners from across the country to be featured in the documentary Limitless made by Bengaluru-based India Amateur Runners Trust.  

For Verma, a regular day starts at 4.30 am and by 5.30, she hits the road. “On days I practise long runs, which is 36 to 37 km, it takes me around three hours. My short runs are nothing short of 10 km,” says Verma who took part in the Vasai-Virar marathon last month. Incidentally, Vasai-Virar marathon was the first marathon she took part in and secured third rank in the 21 km category in 2012. Then she took part in Pune Marathon, Goa River Marathon, Hyderabad Marathon and several other races.
Her running mantra is simple: Run according to your own capability and don’t compare yourself to others. “When running I do not look at my watch. Also, I do not run with the intention of beating others. I run simply because I enjoy it,” says Verma, who also does cycling and karate to help her train better.
The Challenges
Ask her about the challenges for women runners in India and she says, “In places like Nalasopara, running in shorts draws glares. So I wear long pants or I go to better places to run. For instance, I have a few women friends who live in posh housing societies, they pick me up and we practise in their neighbourhood. Sometimes, when your running partner is a man, others raise an eyebrow, more so because I am a single mother. The best thing is to ignore. Also, it’s very hard to convince your family about your passion for running. But I don’t believe in a ‘No’, nothing is impossible,” says Verma, mother of 14-year-old Sagar, who is preparing for his 10th Boards.

“When I worked as a domestic help, I used to keep my infant son at home locked for 5-6 hours because it wasn’t always possible for me to take him from one house to another. But I hated the idea of leaving him behind because when I would return home I would see him sleeping, crying or he would have thrown his food outside the window. I felt helpless but couldn’t do a thing,” says Verma recalling her trying times.

A few years later, she put Sagar in a boarding school-cum-orphanage. In 2015, she got him home again. Today, her son is very proud of her and he too would like to run like his mother some day.

Funds needed
She no longer works as a domestic help. Prize money from her marathons and her job at Centrum Capital, Mumbai, help her run her home. “But managing the chawl rent, my son’s education fees and other expenses gets tough. When people ask me about my diet, I say, ‘It’s nothing special. I have whatever I get to eat like dal, rice and vegetables.’ I can’t afford protein shakes or training tools needed to improve my running efficiency. I am looking for funds so that I can continue with my passion and achieve higher feats and bigger goals.”

Pune RoadRunners, which is an all-inclusive and open running group spread across Pune and Pimpri-Chinchwad, has come to her aid often, arranging for her travel expenses, registration fees and food and stay for Goa, Hyderabad and Pune marathons. “I am grateful to them for helping me out,” says Verma. More help from philanthropists will be appreciated.
Those who wish to fund Verma for her future ventures can contact her on 7219156221.

The author can be followed on Twitter @taniaroy

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