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Three peaks in less than two days gets finds Ajay Unni fitter and happier, reports SHERYL DIXIT
It was an amazing rush of adrenalin that made Ajay Unni practically run down the slope to the base of the last peak, with the knowledge that he had successfully completed the Whitelion 3 Peaks Challenge in 32.5 hours. The feeling of exhilaration continues as Ajay recounts his experience in scaling Mt. Tenant, Mt. Kosciuszko and finally Mt Bogon, in essentially 23 hours of climbing and the remaining then hours of travel and resting.
The fundraising challenge on behalf of Whitelion began on the morning of March 23 at 7am, and ended at 4:30pm on March 24.
“The first peak was a challenge, but my training since the past few months held in good stead. I managed to get to the top of Mt. Tenant without much difficulty. However, it was the second peak that posed the biggest problem,” recalls Ajay.
“It wasn’t easy,” he admits. “It took me 7-8 hours to climb Mt. Kosciuszko in rain, hail and freezing wind, and my food and water were frozen solid. I didn’t eat anything for over seven hours. That’s when I had to ask myself what on earth I was doing scaling a peak in these extreme conditions.” But despite the hardship of the actual climb and without food or water, Ajay made back to the welcome warmth of the camp and a cup of hot soup. And before long, it was time for the third mountain challenge.
After the adversity faced when climbing the second peak, Ajay was more than ready to tackle Mt Bogon. “Conditions were better and I had no problem in reaching the peak. But I practically ran all the way down,” he says with a laugh, recalling the feeling of joy and excitement at having successfully completed the challenge.
Ajay trained every day in all weather conditions for a couple of months before undertaking the challenge. “The good thing is that I actually enjoyed the physical activity and have continued the routine of jogging and exercising even now,” he says.
Naturally, all the people who supported Ajay in achieving the challenge were as thrilled as him. “My family, specially my wife Sapna has been a pillar of support whenever I decide to participate in any fundraising activity,” says Ajay. “This time around she is doubly happy as I lost about 6kgs when training and doing the challenge, which is something she wanted me to do.” Ajay is also grateful to those who contributed towards raising money for his challenge. “I raised a little over $1000 for this event, and it was thanks to the support of all the people who contributed towards the cause.”
Ajay has been involved with Whitelion for some time now, a non-profit community organisation that provides youth-focused gender and culturally specific services in several areas including employment, role modelling, specialist outreach support and education based prevention programmes. Although this is the first time Ajay has undertaken the 3 Peaks Challenge, last year he volunteered to be a part of the Bail Out initiative, spending a night at a juvenile detention training centre. He continues to help in identifying fundraising opportunities, as well as approaching corporates and event partners to help Whitelion in gaining sponsors.
For Ajay, it’s the feeling of being able to help young people that is at the crux of his involvement with Whitelion. “I have always felt a connection with young people, and when I came across Whitelion, I realized that I felt inspired by their initiatives to help disadvantaged youth,” he says. “In fact, I feel that people in the community should make an effort to volunteer their time to a good cause. Get involved in a cause to which you feel close, the feeling is just great!”
There is a general misconception that when it comes to disadvantaged youth, they mostly belong to mainstream Australian communities. However, there are also Indian and other nationalities who fall within Whitelion’s spectrum, who have been convicted for juvenile crime. “It would be great if these youth can also be helped, perhaps by willing members of the community,” says Ajay, citing the example of Mark Ella, former rugby union player who is now on the advisory board for Whitelion. He works extensively with juvenile Aborigine youth, as being of Aborigine background, he understands their situation and the challenges they face. “There may be a better connection as they have the commonality of belonging to the same country of origin, which may help these young people improve and better their lives,” adds Ajay.
So what’s next on the agenda for Ajay? “I fully intend being a part of the 3 Peaks Challenge again next year,” he says enthusiastically. “In the meantime I will continue to help with corporate sponsorship and fundraising. The important thing is to do whatever little I can for these young people. Whitelion is a great organization, and I am happy to be involved in it.”