Musings for a responsible society

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How running has made Hema super successful? It’s never late for you too!!

200mts to the finish line of IDBI FLI Spice Coast Marathon 2017, at Kochi.

HEMA MENON, 47 years young, is a mother of two. She is heading one of the largest development centers of the IT Services MNC, UST Global at Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala. Yes, she is just like any other working woman who is saddled with multiple roles and responsibilities. But what made her ‘extraordinary’ is her run on the paths less travelled – literally.

She did her MS in Software Engineering and the MBA – both after marriage -  while working full time. And she never compromised her duties as a wife and a mother!

It is said that forty is the new thirty! We can say ‘Twenty’, when we talk about Hema. In her mid-forties, she discovered a new activity with running, especially long distance running and that has changed her life altogether.

Some of you may be thinking that if one has started running marathons when she was in her forties, she might have been an athlete or fitness freak since many decades. Hema proved us wrong!  She says, ‘I was never interested in any sports. I don't even recollect participating in even a lemon and spoon race, while at school’.

Then what made her jump into running at this age? Let us hear from her:

“My daughter challenged me to go out for a walk one day, and I started with a walk each morning.  The shift from walking to running came much later, and the influence from multiple sources too.

Diabetes runs in the family of my husband and he too became a diabetic at a young age. His brother Ramesh, started running as a means to run away from diabetes, and he was successful not just in keeping diabetes away, but also in becoming one of the fast marathoners in the country.  He successfully influenced his wife Seema, along with many other cousins too, into running. The one person who he could not influence, was Subhash, his brother and my husband.  I was inspired by Seema, Ramesh and the Soles of Cochin Runners, and realized that I could influence Subhash too with my running. That’s where it all started.”

All of us, at least on days following the day we get our blood reports or the days after new year or after binging on delicacies on special occasions, join a Gym, go for long walks and sometimes get hugely motivated to even jog a few meters as well! But, why should we participate in a race or marathon?

Let us hear from Hema about her maiden experience in participating in a race.

I participated in my first race, at the age of 44, a 7km run at Kochi International Half Marathon in December 2013. It was more of a walkathon for me as I was not used to race. My first attempt at a Marathon was on May 3rd, 2014, at Columbus, Ohio, USA.  We (husband, daughter and me) had gone there on vacation, to visit our son, who had just joined college at the time. There was a half marathon happening there at the time and I signed up the entire family for the race. I did a half marathon (21km), my husband (10km) and both kids (5km). That was the perfect start for my long distance running and I treasure the experience the most.

Since 2014, in the past almost 3 years, I have successfully completed 12 half marathons (21.1km), 14 full marathons(42.095km)  and 4 ultra marathons (50km, 75km, 110km & 71km)

How many of us are motivated to take a walk around our house or to do some simple exercise at home, though we keep hearing enough about how important they are! It is amazing to see a working woman running an extra mile for good health!

Let’s ask her, how did this new found passion help her in life?

Running has helped me physically and mentally. Physically it has helped me to be more active and also in reducing my weight. But more importantly, running has helped me to reduce stress and increase confidence.   Training and Running marathons and ultra-marathons have helped me develop mental strength and become more patient, which helps me to maintain cool, even at times of frustration and adversity. Patience is a virtue that I seemed to have developed through my running. Running has also taken me to places that I haven’t been before, introduced me to many people whom I never knew before and made me see things that I have never seen before.  

Hema receiving the award after 75km Ultra Run at Javadhu Ultra, 2016.
She was one of the two women runners who finished the race

It is said that behind every successful man, there is a woman. It is also a fact in our society that behind every successful woman there is only herself! Many times, woman is not allowed to pursue her passion because of the constant reminders by everyone around her that everything she does outside her home would be detrimental to the family’s well being!!

What support you got from your family when you pursued your educational and career goals after marriage and while you raced?

My family is very supportive of this passion. My husband and kids are my biggest supporters and none of this could have happened without their support. There were races that I signed up, especially ultra-marathons for which I was unsure about my ability to finish. My children were positive that I could do it.  When the children were around at home, my husband used to stay back, so that I can make my weekend trips for running races at different parts of the country. My mother in law too is happy about our running.  Of course, there is always some folks in the family and friend circle, who would constantly say that I have lost weight and I should run less. :)

Could Hema influence her husband too??
  I still fondly remember the moment I touched the finish line in my first full marathon - Spice Coast Marathon -  in 2014. As I went past the finish line, collected the beautiful medal, and looked up, I saw my husband standing there with a half marathon, his first half marathon, medal around his neck. Seeing that made me so happy, that I forgot the joy of my first marathon.

Hema was a podium finisher in her age category in many races. She got second position in Coimbatore Half Marathon, first position in Spice Coast Marathon, and  Goa River Marathon. This year she got the second position in Female Veteran Category at The Wipro Chennai Marathon. She successfully finished the ultra-marathons like Malnad Ultra (110km), Javadhu Ultra (75km), Munnar Ultra (71km) and Chennai Trail Marathon (50km) within the cutoff times. 

The joy of running. Hema enjoying the trail run of 110 km at The Malnad Ultra. 

Not only at home and on the ground, she also makes a mark at her job too. She is responsible to keep a track of all operations of the Center, along with ensuring growth and branding of the organization at the Center.  She had also shouldered additional responsibility of being the delivery manager accountable for successful delivery of software projects for some of the fortune 500 companies.

The young girls of today are good at multi-tasking. But many of them are not interested in outdoor activities. What is your advice to them?

You get only one life to live. Live it to the fullest, and that would mean, living healthy and living long without being dependent on others. If you take care of your health, you are guaranteed to live a fulfilling life. So why waste it by not being active? My advice to all is to challenge yourself. Get out of your comfort zone, try out something new. Only then will you discover what strengths (or lack of it) you possess. Unless you challenge yourself to do something that you never knew you could, life could be pretty boring.

 Are the new generation too much into social media?

I think the new generation is getting smarter. They seem to adopt and discard the many tools that come across. They are social media savvy, and are much faster in adopting them. If they find it to be not interesting, they will choose to move on to the next thing that gets their attention. They are on Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, Snapchat and more and they seem to be using some of these channels to their advantage. There is also another set of newgens who are unaware or ignorant of the risks associated with privacy and seem to be victims of these too. Every generation seems to be smarter than the previous ones, when it comes to adoption of technology.

Let me shoot a few more questions to her about growing up in a highly paradoxical Kerala - a highly literate society but marred by gender specific crimes and prejudices.
What are your views on society's changing gender perceptions?

Even though there has been improvement from earlier times, we are not fully there yet in having a society which treats men and women equally. Women still need to fight for her rights, be it for a visit to Sabarimala or for trekking to Agastyarkoodam.  We still have a long way to go to make it easy for women.

Don't you think Kerala society has a lot of double standards?

Probably. But I guess it is not limited to Kerala only.

Recently a popular film actor was attacked and abused in the car while she was on her way back from work.   Don’t you think there are more abuses against women in Kerala than in other states. And also there are several incidents of moral policing. Women feel uncomfortable travelling outside once it is dark.  What do you say about this?

Abuses against women have not reduced even with increased focus brought out by so many incidents happening in our country and in my state. We get to hear about some of the incidents, but I believe there are a lot more that goes unheard of. The abuses against women are not limited to the young crowd alone, but extends to small children and elder women too. This pretty much indicates what the problem is with our society. More and more women are coming forward to report the struggles that they face, which is a good sign.

In spite of all her outdoor passions, Hema enjoys being at home, with her family, doing nothing but just taking it easy.  At the end I asked her what she thinks about herself and what is her life’s message.

Hema says that her  story is not about the dream come true for a passionate athlete or a super successful woman. She only represents any woman who plays the multiple roles - a mother, a wife, a daughter, a career woman, and who tries to integrate work and life and get the best out of both. It is also about being there for the family and yet, chasing ones’ own interests and passion. She hopes that her story will inspire many women to try out new things, explore their own dreams, and become more healthy and active.

Yes, if at this age, with no previous athletic experience, Hema can run marathons and ultra-marathons, and more importantly live to talk about it, anyone can!

Hema, with the group, Soles of Cochin, after the recent TCS Fit4life 10k race

Thanks Hema for being an inspiration to all!
                                                  © Sibichen K Mathew

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