Breaking Barriers On Wheels

- July 22, 2023
| By : Tahir Bhat |

Gareema Shankar and Renu Singhi, two women cyclists who are subject of documentary Going Solo, have defied societal norms to pursue their dreams

<strong>ACHIEVEMENT: </strong>Gareema Shankar at London-Edinburgh-London 2022

In a world where societal norms often confine women to predetermined roles, Renu Singhi and Gareema Shankar have defied expectations, pushing boundaries and redefining what is possible through their shared passion for cycling.

Their journeys and accomplishments stand as testament to the power of determination, resilience, and unwavering dedication.

Renu, a 58-year-old cyclist, has pedalled her way through 80,000 kilometres over the past six years.

Despite initial resistance from her family, her unwavering dedication, inspiration from her peer group, passion and love for cycling eventually gained their support.

Renu credits much of her success to her mentor and coach, Sunil Sharma, affectionately known as Guru ji, who provided motivation and training she needed to excel in the field.

Guru ji has been instrumental in shaping my career as a cyclist. His guidance and unwavering support have been invaluable,” Renu says gratefully after shooting for a documentary Going Solo, in Delhi.

Every cycling event that Renu participated in was taken as a personal challenge, driving her to improve constantly. As a woman cyclist, she found herself surrounded by a community of supporters who showered her with encouragement and unwavering support.

“The outpouring of encouragement from people has been overwhelming. It has been instrumental in boosting my confidence and pushing me to achieve more,” Renu shares with a smile.

“Being the first Indian woman to complete LEL (London-Edinburgh-London) is an achievement I cherish deeply. It represents the culmination of years of hard work and dedication,” Renu states with a sense of accomplishment.

HEIGHTS: Conquering the mighty Khardungla on two wheels

Reflecting on her journey, Renu recalls the moment that encapsulates her resilience.

“Pedalling at a high speed, falling off my bicycle, and getting back up without realising the pain the accident at LEL in August 2022 caused, is etched in my memory. It symbolises the unwavering spirit of a cyclist, always ready to rise again,” she recalls.

“The only problem I feel is the safety of women. They are not safe in India anywhere, specifically in north India. I have ridden in south India as well, and I can see the difference. The safety of women is the only thing that concerns me,” she says.

“The traffic is undeniably chaotic, and it’s a matter of concern that is not limited to gender. However, for women, it doubles up the challenges,” she adds.

“The respect I receive from people is humbling. The genuine connections I have made throughout my journey are still intact, and I value them immensely,” she expresses with gratitude.

 Age is no bar

Renu firmly believes that age is just a number. Her story of Going Solo showcases the boundless potential within each individual to achieve the seemingly impossible.

Going Solo will serve as an inspiration to women across India. It breaks stereotypes and empowers women to participate in cycling events without hesitation,” Renu asserts.

Gareema Shankar, a dedicated mother and cyclist from Delhi, has also defied societal expectations by immersing herself in the world of long-distance cycling.

With a deep-rooted love for the sport, Gareema has challenged herself both physically and mentally.

Gareema’s balancing act between her responsibilities as a mother and a professional exemplifies the strength and multi-tasking abilities of women.

Despite facing initial resistance from her strict family, Gareema’s unwavering passion convinced them to support her endeavour. Participating in international cycling events like Paris-Brest-Paris motivated Gareema to improve continuously. She underwent rigorous training, including hill training, indoor rides, strength exercises, and yoga, to prepare herself for the challenges ahead.

“I started my journey in long-distance cycling because my peers recognised my consistency and passion for daily rides. Their encouragement pushed me to set goals and gradually venture into longer distances,” Gareema told Patriot.

“Cycling contributes to personal well-being and environmental sustainability. It serves as a coping mechanism, particularly for individuals combating high stress levels. To encourage more people, especially women, to embrace cycling, we need logistical support from workplaces, such as shower areas and safe parking spaces. Regulated traffic rules for cyclists and prioritising safety are also crucial,” Gareema added.

EMBRACING THE THRILL: Gareema Shankar training in Delhi

When asked about the challenges of riding solo at night, Gareema acknowledged the benefits of having a co-rider but highlighted her adaptability to solo rides.

“While having a co-rider can be beneficial, I have grown accustomed to riding solo at night. It no longer fazes me due to my familiarity with it, showcasing my resilience and self-reliance,” the 44-year-old said.

“Cycling has taught me valuable lessons about balancing my responsibilities as a mother and a professional. It has become an integral part of my life, and with the support of my understanding child, I emphasise the importance of women embracing their passions and managing multiple aspects of their lives,” Gareema added.

Embracing passion

Supported by her child, who encourages her cycling endeavours, Gareema emphasises the importance of women embracing their passions and managing multiple aspects of their lives.

One of Gareema’s notable achievements in the field of cycling is becoming a Super Randonneur SR6 in 2019, completing a 1500-kilometre mountain bike ride in just six days.

“Despite being unwell during the initial stages of the 1500-kilometre mountain bike ride, I refused to give up. It exemplifies my determination and refusal to let setbacks define me,” Gareema proudly stated.

Each achievement becomes a stepping stone for her next goal.

“Setbacks are merely opportunities for learning and growth. I am inspired to keep moving forward and defy limitations,” Gareema expressed passionately.

Both Renu and Gareema’s participation in endurance cycling events has been transformative, not only in terms of personal growth but also in terms of impact on others.

Beyond their personal accomplishments, Renu and Gareema have dedicated themselves to making a positive impact on society. Through their respective roles, they strive to inspire others to pursue their passions, prioritise well-being, and contribute to a better world.

Renu serves as a member of the board of directors for the Manav Ashray NGO, which provides accommodation and support to cancer patients and those with long-term illnesses.

PEDAL POWER: Renu Singhi on the roads of Delhi

Her involvement in this organisation allows her to combine her passion for cycling with her commitment to social work, spreading awareness about the importance of health and mental well-being. Gareema Shankar is also an active member of the NGO Manav Ashray, providing accommodation to patients undergoing cancer treatment.

Gareema, as the founder of the Cyclone Cycling Club, has created a supportive community that encourages daily rides and promotes green initiatives.

“As the founder of the Cyclone Cycling Club, I promote daily rides and green initiatives. The club acts as a support system, fostering camaraderie among members. We organise various activities, including step challenges and kilometre challenges, to motivate participants in different sports and activities,” Gareema highlighted.

The upcoming documentary, Going Solo, showcases Renu and Gareema’s journeys, highlighting their determination, resilience, and ability to break free from societal limitations. The film aims to inspire and empower individuals, especially women, to defy expectations, pursue their passions, and create their own paths in life.

The idea for the documentary Going Solo emerged when filmmakers Sharib Khan and Vikas Kumar expressed interest in capturing Gareema’s endurance rides. Directed by Ameya Gore, the documentary aims to showcase the courage of women pursuing ultra-cycling despite the risks involved. It highlights the growing number of women stepping out of their comfort zones and achieving their goals.

Gareema’s future goals as a long-distance cyclist are boundless. She aspires to continue participating in various events worldwide, pedal across the globe, and inspire others through her experiences. While not formally training others, Gareema willingly shares her learnings and supports her peers in setting their own goals, ensuring that her passion for cycling continues to inspire and uplift those around her.