A stride for India’s youth

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To celebrate World Vision’s 50th anniversary, Aussie Samantha Gash is running across India

As an urbane ultra-marathon runner who has experienced sporting triumph, athletic fragility, and cultural immersion in India, Samantha Gash is set to commence her latest pursuit: Project India.

This September, Gash will embark on a 4000km marathon across India for Project India, an ultra-marathon for World Vision’s 50th anniversary promoting education for children and raising funds for projects addressing educational inequality.

Samantha Gash.Indian Link

Samantha’s project comes shortly after Pat Farmer’s much publicised ultra-marathon in India which has recently concluded. He ran from Kanyakumari to Srinagar in 65 days to strengthen diplomatic ties between India and Australia, and to also raise awareness and funds for girls’ education in India through the Nanhi Kali foundation. There is much warmth in the Indian community in Australia for this engagement with India, as Pat and Samantha cover the length and breadth of our home country, promoting gender parity in education.

With Project India, Samantha will run for 75 days, averaging around 50km per day, starting from the sweltering desert of Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, and ending in the cascading town of Mawsynram, Meghalaya, the wettest place on earth.

Samantha Gash.Indian Link

It is India’s diverse topography and climatic variances that initially sparked Samantha’s wanderlust. “I knew I was going to one day run across India after I went in 2011. Something about the country really stuck in my mind,” Samantha told Indian Link. “I also spoke to a couple of Indian friends at the time, and then decided I was going to run from the west to the east of India. I also wanted to raise awareness of quality education.”

Now a professional corporate speaker, Samantha wants to explore more unchartered regions of this unique country, and “create meaningful content while on the move” through a mini-series or documentary at the conclusion of the project.

Samantha Gash.Indian Link

“During Project India, I want to raise awareness and attention to the complex barriers for children in India, for girls as well as boys. I think a lot of people think it’s about access to education for girls, but issues such as malnutrition exist for everyone, boys included,” Samantha explained. “The next big thing is funding education-focused projects around India with World Vision.”

Beyond her marathon runs, Samantha’s travels in India have allowed her to unearth a somewhat dichotomous nation. On one hand she found a land full of welcoming people, a plethora of food delicacies and an enmeshment of architectural and natural beauty. On the other, she saw a nation struggling to provide access to basic freedoms such as education and food security to marginalised citizens, particularly children.

“When I was out in Rajasthan last October, I went to the communities and I met women and families. The things that I learnt were what I remembered the most,” Samantha reminisced. “We had a generalised perception of the challenges Indians faced, but when you go to the country and properly interact with the people, you realise the complexities of India. There is a beauty, but it also hard to wrap your head around.”

Samantha Gash.Indian Link

In conjunction to Samantha’s meeting with various communities, she was also chosen to participate in the Australia India Youth Dialogue 2016 held this past January in New Delhi, Mohali and Bengaluru. Samantha joined other young achievers including politicians, CEOs and journalists for this annual conference, engaging in a discussion of issues applicable to the future of both India and Australia – culture, entrepreneurship and sustainability.

During the upcoming marathon, Samantha will ensure her nutritional and energy levels are well optimised, by fuelling herself with the staples of a healthy Indian diet. “I will be a vegetarian there, and will eat foods like roti, dal and paneer,” she explained. “It is easy to get sources of protein because of the lentils, chickpeas and all the different carbohydrate sources such as rice.”

Although Samantha has attained a wealth of knowledge about India, she is also well-versed on marathon running through India’s terrains as she entered a non-stop run across the Himalayas. This was following her first experience in ultra-marathon running in the 4 Deserts Grand Slam where at 25, she became the first woman and youngest person to complete the race, running four 250km races in Chile, China, Sahara and Antarctica.

Samantha Gash.Indian Link

“Sometimes when you finish something that’s so big, you feel even more motivated,” Gash said. “I felt so empowered and strong at the end of it, and thought anything was possible if I worked hard enough, so why not do the next big challenge which is to run 222km across the Himalayas.”

While Samantha’s odyssey across the great plains of the Himalayas was not a walk in the park, she was able to overcome the onerous conditions. “It was really hard. The weather was so volatile and I suppose it was more of an expedition than a race,” she said. “I was struggling with the altitude, it got really hot and cold and there were whiteout conditions. But my friends motivated me to push through and I also wanted to see how far I could push the envelope.”

As Samantha Gash has commendably overcome physical and mentally draining challenges during previous marathons, she is well equipped for Project India which will be her biggest charity marathon to date. “It’s when you immerse yourself into something; you are motivated to do it,” she said. “I dream about India every night, and having been back to India several times, it has made my connection so much greater with the country and people. I want to experience as much of India as possible.”