Unbelievable; amazing; what? In this condition? Superhuman; hats off to him for his determination!
These are some of the reactions to what can only be described as an incredible feat… of determination, will power and physical endurance.
Naresh Kumar Jalan, a member of my club RC Calcutta Mahanagar, RID 3291, discovered his passion for running in 2016, at the young age of 57. Every journey begins with a single step, and Naresh started his with a run of 500 metres, pushing himself to run further each day and on Jan 29, just a few months after he began his journey, he not only participated in but miraculously won his first ever mini marathon (5km).
The die was cast and the bug had bitten. The BRC mini marathons in 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020, the CSC mini marathon in 2018. He not just ran these, winning each one he entered, but also bettered his time, every time. In the Tata Structura in 2019 he was 25th among 5,000 participants from all categories, earning the moniker of Naresh Milkha Singh in our club.
He was enjoying his new found passion. But life has strange plans and tragedy struck. Just when the world was battling the second wave of the Covid pandemic in 2021, Naresh was diagnosed with a rare heart ailment and was recommended immediate surgery. His world came crashing down. He was wheeled into surgery with the doctors warning his wife and daughter Dr Karishma, an intensivist, not to be too hopeful of the outcome. They prepared themselves for the worst, but had faith in Naresh’s determination and the will to overcome. He underwent the replacement of the aortic valve and ascending aorta with a metal conduit, a rare and complicated operation.
The post-operative recovery was especially difficult with Covid raging all around, with restrictions and lockdowns.
It is only when the darkness deepens that one truly recognises the power of family. In Naresh’s case, the power of the Rotary family and the selflessness of our fellow Rotarians quickly came to the fore for everything that his family members needed emotionally and logistically, including the blood required through the donors. His wife Neelam and daughter Karishma will forever be grateful to Rotarians for the unstinting support that they received during this very dark phase.
Slowly the clouds dissipated, and Naresh began his long road to recovery, hoping to lead a normal life once again. But what is “normal” to us mere mortals, was not so for him. He is made of a different steel. He wanted to not just get back on his feet, but to run again.
Known for his passion, he never does anything half-heartedly, being both determined and disciplined. A passionate follower of Rotary, he is known as the encyclopaedia of Rotary in our district; even I think twice before questioning his knowledge.
A few months after his ordeal, he took his first tentative walk. One laborious step led to another. Slowly, over days and weeks, he increased his pace, then a jog of 100 metres, 200, 500, 1km… each day he climbed a mountain… all with an eye on his Everest.
Exactly 21 months later, on Jan 28, 2023, Naresh entered the BRC mini marathon once again. His wife and daughter had prayers on their lips; in trepidation they held each other’s hands and their breaths, when the whistle blew for the start of the race. We all wanted Naresh to summit his Everest but were terrified. The minutes passed agonisingly slowly, their hearts beating faster and faster, it seemed like a lifetime until they saw him cross the finish line. They were ecstatic and ran to hug him with tears in their eyes. Tears of relief, joy, triumph.
Naresh had won… he had beaten everything that life had thrown at him. And for the record, he won in his category and came in top five amongst about 500 participants across all categories.
“We don’t know internationally, but yes in India we have not heard of anyone running a marathon a year and a half after this heart procedure, and winning it too,” is what his doctors have said. The doctors are super proud of him, friends are proud of him… and to Karishma and Neelam, well he is simply, a super hero.
The writer is a past RI president.