Crossing hurdles one after the other and pushing one’s limits is nothing new for sportspersons, but what makes Niket Dalal stand out is the fact that he is the first blind athlete to complete the Sahyadri Classic ultra-climbing cycle race.
The 39-year-old psychology major from Aurangabad created history on January 23 by completing the race with the assistance of his sighted companion, Arham Shaikh.
The race is open to all competitive and recreational cyclists around India. It comprises a four-ghats challenge with 3400m+ elevation and the two-ghats challenge with 1700m+. in Mahabaleshwar, Maharashtra.
Niket tells us the downhill ride was more difficult than climbing. “Even though the experience was nice, riding a tandem bike in the 2-Ghat category (90 km and 2017 mts elevation) was a different ball game. The tandem bicycle is designed to be ridden by more than one person and cycling down the Ghats with sharp turns and high gravitational pull was a challenge especially for Arham, as he had to guide the cycle over sharp turns carrying the weight of two people,” he shares. “Moreover, as the race was held early in the mornings in January, it was quite chilly, and maintaining a strong grip in those conditions was tough,” Niket says.
“This race is special as I had to import the racing special tandem cycle from California, US, after failing to find it in India,” reveals Arham. “The challenge didn’t end there; the cycle was stuck in customs for 35 days due to duty issues. We finally got the cycle just 10 days before the race,” he says.
The Sahyadri Classic is based on the La Marmotte race in the French Alps and this was the first time that a blind tandem team participated and successfully completed this challenge. “We didn’t have any experience of this sort of climbing race with a tandem cycle before, so it was tough. We motivated each other all throughout the challenge to keep us moving without giving up,” recalls Arham.
Niket was not born blind. He lost his vision just six years ago due to glaucoma. Elaborating on the fitness regime he followed before taking part in the cycling race, Niket says, “I tried to ride around 100 km at least twice a week. Even though we wanted to practice much more before the race, we couldn’t, as the bike was stuck in customs.” Sheer grit has made Niket participate in various long competitions, including the Half Ironman 70.3—comprising a 1.9-km swim, 90-km bicycle ride and 21.1-km run last year, and the Brevet de Randonneurs Mondiaux (BRM) amongst others, he also completed the 550-km Manali-Khardungla bicycle ride. Niket rightly feels his hard work has paid off, but he believes there’s more for him to do. “I want to achieve more, participate in different swimathons and cyclathons to be my very best before the next challenge. Moreover, with my small success, I hope to spread awareness about endurance sports and prove that anything is possible if one tries hard enough with proper training,” says Niket, who is now eyeing the lronman World Championship. As for Arham, he wants to ferret out more talented people like Niket to make sports more inclusive and create a community of sportsmen both specially-abled and able-bodied, to take India to great heights.