The Pink Dialogue
Milind Soman is an avid runner, an ardent sportsman, and an international level swimmer, besides being a top model and actor of course. The role model and pinup star for a whole generation of India, Soman has won multiple laurels for India and continues to inspire millions. And yes, he is relentless. From movies to marathons, he has done it all.
What motivated you to choose breast cancer awareness as a cause?
When I started the Pinkathon, it was to understand if women would run. As a runner, I had observed that running was becoming very popular across the country. But the participation of women was always very low. I have a background in event management, and I pursued it for 30 years (not many people know that). I thought it would be interesting to create a space and see how women respond to it. And there were hardly any platforms for women to get together unless it was religious, political or ideological. We thought of Pinkathon is a celebration for them to come together and celebrate their own health.
Marathons are always connected to fundraising and social causes worldwide, and this was a cause of women’s health. The challenge here was making people understand the need for a healthier lifestyle and a better, fitter tomorrow.
But nobody could understand what exactly we were trying to say about women’s health. And that’s when we realized we had to have a disease associated with the run to talk about women’s health; and to imbibe the meaning of what we were trying to do, which is, well, ironic and really strange!
THE SPIRIT OF PINKATHON IS TO CULTIVATE A SENSE OF SELF-BELIEF, UNDERSTANDING YOUR OWN POTENTIAL, WHAT YOU ARE CAPABLE OF. AND ABOUT THE RUNS, WE ENCOURAGE AND TRAIN WOMEN TO GO FROM CITY TO CITY IN THE SPIRIT OF PINKATHON TO SHOW EVERYBODY THATIT IS POSSIBLE.
A friend of mine, Devika Bhojwani, a cancer survivor herself, suggested that we should link the cause of breast cancer awareness to a running convention. It is the most common yet curable cancer and when you take part in sports you become more aware of your body, which would facilitate the signs of early detection as well.
What are the fitness activities covered under Pinkathon?
For us, running is only one tool. There are many other tools for fitness as well. We promote all kinds of activities. We do warm up Zumba sessions and we have cycle runs. We did a Sari Cyclothon as well. For us, it is important for women to take time out for themselves, for their physical, mental and emotional health. Women can do activities, which are more focused on themselves and not just the regular errands. The spirit of Pinkathon is to cultivate a sense of self-belief, understanding your own potential, what you are capable of. And about the runs, we encourage and train women to go from city to city in the spirit of Pinkathon to show everybody that it is possible.
Three ladies, aged more than 45 years, with children and jobs, decided to run from Mumbai to Pune three years ago. This year, 20 women will run and next year, 60! You see, this is the power of inspiration. And this goes beyond running. The most stupendous run was recorded by a visually impaired lady; she ran from Chennai to Pondicherry, covering a distance of 140km. Next year, there are 10 blind girls running from Mysore to Bangalore! Imagine if a blind girl can do it, then what’s stopping a blessed person. It is only their mind for not believing in themselves!
Pinkathon has shaped the culture of running in India. The Indian mindset has changed. So how has this journey been working for a cause supported by your passion for running?
The Pinkathon journey has been really enlightening. I have learned a lot about society, about women, and all the things they go through in life and how they deal with it. In these last six years, I have met a bunch of survivors who have inspired me to keep up the good work. And yes, I am really happy that I could do it through an activity that I love. Running is phenomenal!
You never chose a gym and opted to run for your fitness regime. Why?
I never went to a gym in my life. I never liked going to the gym. I used to swim competitively, but that was till the age of 23. Then, from 23 to 38, I didn’t do any kind of exercise or play any sport. I then started running in 2003. I love running and I run whenever I feel like. I even run barefoot. I want to inspire more people to run and understand fitness, both physical as well as mental.
What is your most cherished, heart-touching Pinkathon memory to date?
Every single memory is. The first Pinkathon was very special. I’d say the first Pinkathon in every city is special, the one in Bengauru, Guwahati, Delhi; they are all close to my heart. And when the Ambassador Programme started, people came to us and they wanted to support and asked what they can do. And that’s how we created this whole family of ambassadors: 300 to 400 in number, who, throughout the year, every Saturday, train for an hour with the women who want to start running.