Continuing the #IamLivingit series, we present to you a personality who took his passion to the next level and made a difference in not only his own life but more notably, in that of others. Jasmeet Gandhi, a Mumbai-based techie who has worked in companies like Microsoft, as well as a cycling enthusiast took his passion for cycling and developed it into something bigger. Interviewed by Sandeep Shetty, Co-founder and CEO at Livingit, we get into why and how Jasmeet Gandhi began organizing his annual cyclothon since 2014 known as Umeed 1000; a 1000 kilometer distance trail in which he aimed to generate funds for causes such as, treatment of children with eye-cancer and education of the underprivileged girls in India, through attracting more participants and sponsors to join and support him. A runner initially, he switched on to cycling due to a knee injury.
SS: You were initially into running but since 2014, you cycle to support a cause of your choice. When did the thought of cycling for a cause come about?
Jasmeet: Well, actually my wife in a big way was instrumental in that decision. Working as the head of CSR at the Bank, she came across promoters who were interested in cycling. As I was too at the time, she put the two together and said, “Okay, let’s do something around this.” We discussed the idea and came up with the concept of raising money for different causes via organizing a cyclothon and attaining funds from sponsors. That was how the idea for Umeed 1000 came about. The first ride was in 2014 and we supported the treatment for children with eye cancer.
SS: Did you cycle regularly before Umeed 1000 came about?
Jasmeet: I am a recreational cyclist, not a professional. But I believe that you should come out of your comfort zone. So a big part of the challenge was to take whatever minimum experience and training I had as a cyclist and push it to the next level. The cause – Umeed 1000 – itself gives you a lot of motivation, along with the fact that you have the backing of sponsors who put their trust in you as well as friends and family that have donated generously. Those reasons definitely give you the required energy to take yourself forward. It was definitely not easy.
The first year I really had no idea what I had signed myself up for but at the same time, the emotional payoff from doing something like this was something I really hadn’t imagined. And I think that is what has helped this grow; the first year I was alone, by the second year there were four of us and now, the most recent one last November, we were 12. People feel good about doing well for themselves through cycling but at the same time doing good for someone else through the cause. These are two things that people don’t do very regularly, but I think the combination works for Umeed 1000.
SS: How was the experience – solo in 2014, to 4 cyclists in 2015, to finally 12 in 2016?
Jasmeet: It was very different. The first year was a whole new challenge for me as I had no similar prior experience. It was physically and mentally very tough. Also, the fact that we had not gone in a cool month and it was very hot, along with the terrain being unfamiliar, created some havoc. However, it was all about managing myself; as I had done it solo the first year. The second year there were 3 more, of which 1 was a pro which was quite helpful as he helped set the pace for the other 2. So, from solo to 4, we had the additional responsibility of taking care of them.
But the most recent expedition was by far the most challenging. The logistics of managing a team of 12 is obviously quite different. With 4 people you can manage easily. But then 12, you’re managing a group within which there are groups; the first timers who cannot keep pace, the ones who have a little experience, and the pros racing ahead.
So, we needed more support; we needed funding and more facilities. We need to take care of each and everyone participating making sure that they don’t injure themselves/feel unwell or have a bad experience. There was a whole lot of new learning for me as a team leader .
SS: Before starting the Umeed 1000 cyclathon, what was the longest distance you had ever ridden?
Jasmeet: Well, on weekends I would do about 50 to 60 kilometers at a stretch, finishing about 120 kilometers in a day. But in Bombay there is no space for bicycles on the road, there is nothing you can practice on and so you have to take what you can get. That’s primarily what I was doing. Nothing special in terms of training except some exercises strengthening the primary leg and core muscles required for cycling, and managing my diet and nutrition.
SS: Tell us something about your planning process- the route selection, breaks, logistics, raising funds?
Jasmeet: Every Umeed 1000 is organized around a different cause, so the route especially depends largely on the sponsors supporting the event and their requirements. For example, some sponsors convert this into an employee engagement opportunity, like RBL Bank did. We planned according to wherever they had branches in order to do meet-n-greets and things like that.
There is a team that drives ahead of us looking out for any lengthy road construction or other obstacles us cyclists would have to pass, suggesting detours if that is the case. We also create a detailed map before we leave which highlights not only the route but also where we can use the washrooms, take a break and grab a meal. Staying arrangements are made in advance with the sponsors or the NGO taking care of that. But most importantly, in the case of an accident, dehydration or emergency, we also have support vehicles. For this expedition because there were 12 of us we had 4 support vehicles as well as an ambulance trailing us while we cycled. Those are some of the logistics that we had to take care of.
SS: What kind of gear and cycling equipment do you use?
Jasmeet: For the past few years I’ve been using the same bicycle; an imported Rayleigh frame, from UK. Once you’re comfortable with a frame it is difficult to let go so, I stick to maintaining the alloy bicycle that I have rather than adjusting to a new one.
SS: As for safety on the road, how do you ensure that?
Jasmeet: Primarily the support vehicles are our biggest safety precaution keeping us protected from the surrounding traffic when we drive on densely driven roads. Except for that the standard bicycle gear such as a helmet and possibly gloves. It is quite hot to wear elbow and knee pads so those we consider optional.
SS: What was your most challenging experience or moment between these three expeditions?
Jasmeet: There are lots of challenges we faced. Two out of three years it rained. Once we had to take a detour off the main road due to construction and were stuck on non-paved damaged dirt tracks. We are always under the premise that anything can happen. The weather, terrain, road conditions and traffic sense all play a big part. Rajasthan, for example, consisted of a lot of uphill cycling where we encountered tractors driving on the wrong side of the road as well as cattle, even camels, in our way.
Nothing can prepare you for this. The key is to keep enjoying; every day is different. Keep an open mind because you’re on an open road. It might be tiring, even painful, but when you realize what you’re getting from the effort you’re putting in, it all becomes worth it.
SS: What were your most memorable moments in each of these trips?
Jasmeet: In one of the sections of our most recent expedition, the NGO had organized something very nice. As we rode through the town almost 1000 to 1200 children were standing on either side of the road cheering us on, showering us with petals and singing for us. That was a huge surprise, and when that happened we definitely felt very special.
Another very special moment was in a small village we passed through where there is a pretty basic primary school. About 35 young girls have finished their education there and want to continue, but the secondary school is about 4.5 km away. As it is a remote area in which they live, it is not safe for them to walk. So, we decided to donate 35 cycles to them so that these girls could continue their education. We finished our tour and then began planning how to execute it. We connected with the right people and were able to get the bicycles for a special price as we were doing it for the cause. If you make up your mind and show the intent to do something for the benefit of others, then a lot of people will come together to help you out. We didn’t have any of these contacts beforehand, but once people heard about our intention they all came forward.
SS: How did you manage to take off from your full-time job? Were there any issues at work?
Jasmeet: No, not at all. As a matter of fact companies like Microsoft are quite supportive and place emphasis on giving back socially. The moment you start doing big impactful things, the other small things we think were big earlier do not actually have so much of an effect on your life anymore. I think that’s the biggest takeaway in your work life as well as personal life; you start to worry less about the petty things and that can make you a very spiritually aware person. You look at the bigger picture and are ready to understand where other people are coming from.
SS: And if people wanted to join the next expedition, what would they have to do?
Jasmeet: We are first going to have to change the format of the event. If the 12 of us from last year were to each bring another participant we’d already be at 24-25. A lot of changes are going to have to come in as we’ll have to organize this on a professional level. That’s why we want to start earlier to ensure that we do it the right way and not compromise on the true focus of the event which is donating the money we raise. Some early thoughts are there but it is too early to discuss.
SS: Any advice for others like you who want to mix their passion with a cause?
Jasmeet: Start with a sense of gratitude. Gratitude is not something that can be forced on anybody, it comes from within. The moment you discover that feeling then it is just a matter of how you plan to go about it. No matter how small or big your cause is, even to start with impacting one persons’ life is good enough. But the most important thing is to really get off the ground and do it. A lot of us come up with ideas, but barely of us really execute it. In the spur of the moment, you need do it, not just think about it.
As Jasmeet Gandhi, the man behind the Umeed 1000 concludes; the idea is only the initial step. You can follow the journey of Umeed 1000 here . Whether it is in terms of following your passion, supporting a cause or even doing the two at the same time we at Livingit want to inspire you to take it further and go past the first step. Build your passion and become part of the community that can say, “I am Livingit.”