Think Pink, Run Pink
With the Pinkathon, spearheaded by Milind Soman and Reema Kalpana Sanghavi, women all over India began the dialogue of fitness, embracing their bodies and spreading the word against breast cancer.By Shalaka Kulkarni
In India, a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer every 4 minutes and a woman dies of breast cancer every 8 minutes. Does this ring a bell? A loud one, maybe? Breast cancer is the most prevalent form of cancer, not just in India, but right across the globe. The month of October is known as the Breast Cancer Awareness Month (BCAM) worldwide, and the primary aim of this initiative is to educate women to get themselves tested for breast cancer. A bunch of events is organized in The Pink Ribbon Month to spread awareness and bust myths, to raise funds and to empower the community, where cancer meets candor, commitment, and courage.
In India, the name that runs synonymous with breast cancer awareness and prevention is the Pinkathon. Organized by Maximus Mice and Media Solutions, it is India’s biggest women’s run. Using community running as an inspirational tool, Pinkathon has motivated lakhs of women and their families in changing their lives. This initiative by the United Sisters Foundation supports the cause of preventing breast cancer and promoting the importance of early detection.
The Pink Philosophy
In 2012, Milind Soman and Reema Kalpana Sanghavi joined hands to establish this incredible initiative, in order to educate more and more women to adopt a fitter lifestyle and to draw attention to the need for amplified awareness about breast cancer and other issues that are a threat to women’s lives. The team wanted to propagate the notion that “empowerment is not a gift of society; it is a gift you give yourself.” Says Ironman Soman: “We want women to be healthy so they can avoid diseases by building their immune systems. Women become stronger psychologically, emotionally, mentally with exercise. And if they do get affected, they have the courage and capability to fight an ailment, even if it is cancer. Nobody knows the actual definition of good health or fitness. Nobody talks about body functions, digestion, sleep, mental positivity, emotional balance, which should happen altogether when the person is fit. That was basically the idea behind Pinkathon, to change the existing scenario, to inculcate a healthy lifestyle, to educate and empower them.”
Sanghavi, the co-founder of Pinkathon, explains Pinkathon’s motto. “Women in India have always been sacrificing for their families, by putting tiffin boxes and laundry bags first,” she says. “It was high time for women to give more importance to themselves and their health. By prioritizing a few hours or minutes for themselves every day, women can bring about an instrumental change in their physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.” “With Pinkathon, we wanted women to come out and hit the ground on a Sunday morning when they would ideally be preparing breakfast for their families, we wanted them to dedicate some time for themselves and feel the euphoria in coming together and contributing to a form of exercise,” she explains enthusiastically.
In the domain of running, which has always been associated with men, women’s participation was minimal, she adds. “There were no marathons dedicated to women,” she says. “We literally went door-to-door, and requested women to come out, and run. Women were also held back by the notion that they need to wear appropriate clothing like tights, t-shirts, and shorts for running. And it was a challenge to convince them that the outfit doesn’t really matter.”
This initiative was the road not taken, and that has, in reality, made all the difference. As Pinkathon supporter and actor Rahul Bose puts it, “An initiative like this shines a light on breast cancer awareness in a way that a lot of men will respond to also. If it’s a run that women are running, and all runs in the country get a lot of attention, I think it’s a great way for not only women but men also to be aware of what a silent creeping killer this disease is.”
Pinkathon encourages women to give power to themselves by taking control of their own health and understand their value of fitness.
The Pink Expedition
The first Pinkathon run, organized in Mumbai in 2012, saw 2,000 women participating. There has been no turning back since. Today, the annual event receives humongous participation of more than 75,000 women across 8 unstoppable cities! This year, the Pinkathon odyssey started from February 18 in Bengaluru and has traveled to Hyderabad, Kolkata, Chennai, Delhi, Guwahati, and Pune. The runners, called Pink Sisters, participated in 4 categories:3km, 5km, 10km, and a 21km half marathon. Pinkathon, which has gone international, organized two runs in Kathmandu as well. Now, smaller events are being organized in less populated cities and towns like Visakhapatnam and Ahmedabad under the initiative, ‘India goes Pink’. Pinkathon ambassadors across the Indian subcontinent train interested participants for longer running events.
When a marathon goes from one city to another, these candidates run across state borders as a part of the Spirit of Pinkathon. Along with the city-to-city runs, the Maximus Events team organizes Cancer Shero Treks, in which breast cancer survivors participate in large numbers. Pinkathon also organizes hijab runs where women run in pink hijabs. As Pinkathon gained name and fame, it also attracted the stars and eminent figures in the film industry to run for a cause. Prominent artists and fitness enthusiasts like Bipasha Basu, Gul Panag, Soha Ali Khan, Karisma Kapoor, Dia Mirza, Kunal Kapoor, and Bose have associated with Pinkathon. Karisma Kapoor, who flagged off the first Pinkathon run in Mumbai, believes it’s very important to create the awareness that if detected early, breast cancer is curable.
“Breast cancer is a much-neglected ailment in India, most women don’t take it as seriously as they should, and events like this will only help to make women more aware and alert about this disease,” concurs Basu. Says Soha Ali Khan, “It was my mother who first educated me about breast cancer. She has done a lot of work to raise awareness of this issue. We’ve gone through the statistics and know that 40% of the women can be affected by it and that it is easily preventable. And one of the main ways to prevent it is to stay fit and to avoid obesity.” Pinkathon encourages women to give power to themselves by taking control of their own health and understand their value of fitness. Sharmila Kamat-Munj from Mumbai, who has been part of the Pinkathon runs since 2013, was chosen as the first Ambassador of Pinkathon. She did a 160-km run from Mumbai to Pune, and she gives all the credit to Pinkathon’s own barefoot runner, Soman, for inspiring her and for being an incredible mentor.
“Nobody Knows The Actual Definition Of Good Health Or Fitness. Nobody Talks About Body Functions, Digestion, Sleep, Mental Positivity, Emotional Balance, Which Should Happen Altogether When The Person Is Fit.”Milind Soman Co-Founder, Pinkathon
“I had been working with Blue Dart – DHL in Business Development for 17 years,” she reminisces. “One fine day, I received a call for a fundraising opportunity for Pinkathon. I was excited about the opportunity but wasn’t really acquainted with the motive behind it. One day Milind asked me, ‘Why don’t you participate in the run? There’s one happening in Pune.’ That was the first time I removed my stilettos and was a part of a 3km run, with my daughter. I loved the energy and I felt liberated there. I made a promise to myself that I would bring out a revolution. I spoke to my MD at DHL about the cause and DHL agreed to sponsor Pinkathon registrations across India.”
Sharmila then went on to suggest to the team that running just for a day was not enough and that more training was required for women runners. “And I started Har Ghar Me Pinkathon, with 5 members in Vile Parle,” she says. “Today the count is 20,000-plus. And it wasn’t restricted to running but overall empowerment. This was followed by Pinkathon is Listening as an awareness drive, as a friend for women to speak up about their problems.”
Sharmila says that with Pinkathon, she became much more than a runner. “I learned persistence and I also became an entrepreneur,” she says. “I had a muscle pull in my thigh and I couldn’t run anymore, but I moved to swim and cycling and now I am training for my Tri-Cyclothon. I also quit DHL and explored my entrepreneurial knack. I started a project called ‘20 weeks to Fitness’, ‘A cycle donation drive’ and ventured into the propagation of menstrual cups. Milind always told me to be limitless and here I am!”
Along With The City-To-City Runs, The Maximus Events Team Organises Cancer Shero Treks, In Which Breast Cancer Survivors Participate In Large Numbers. Pinkathon Also Organises Hijab Runs Where Women Run In Pink Hijabs.
Another inspiring story is that of Debjani Aich, a corporate lawyer based in Bangalore. “I had hit rock bottom in my life, after my mother’s demise due to Parkinson’s,” she says. “I was juggling cities, my corporate life and both the families. I had neglected my health for 3 to 4 years. And I realized, with a potential history of Parkinson’s, I have a chance to be affected by the diseases. It was in 2016 that Aich saw an advertisement and decided to register for the run with zero preparation. “As Pinkathon has promotional events, which empower different communities, I participated in the Saree Run with my friend Anju Mudgal,” she says. “I met Milind and he said that there’s nothing like a try. Do or don’t, there is no try. And I have been unstoppable ever since. My whole life has changed.”
What lies ahead?
Pinkathon started out as a marathon but has shaped up into a grassroots level fitness movement. From this year, October 21 will be denoted as Pinkathon Day and will be celebrated in more than 100 cities across the globe to mark the success of this initiative. The prime thought behind Pinkathon Day is the slogan, Har Ghar me Pinkathon, through which Pinkathon’s objective will reach every household. The day will be celebrated globally, with participation from 7 countries. But the Pinkathon movement still has its focus on India. “We did two runs in Kathmandu,” says Soman. “There are a lot of calls from London, Doha, Maldives, etc. But we intend to focus on India first. There’s so much to do here. Going International is not on the list. There are so many regions in India where we need to create awareness and spread the inspiration like an unstoppable, wild forest fire!”