He has traveled the furthest to come here. His home in Perth Australia is just about the greatest distance it is possible to travel in one direction, from this gritty New York neighborhood, before you suddenly find yourself encircling the globe and heading back here once again. The distance to Perth is 11,600 miles. When Grahak completes this race for the 3rd time the distance he will have completed over these 3 years would almost take him home. As he starts the day he is in second place. By nightfall he will most certainly have completed 1000 miles
There may be running shoe designers out there somewhere who are thinking about the feet of multi day runners. If there are, no one has ever met them or have they ever sold one pair to the runners like these. Every new pair worn here is sliced up beyond recognition before it has even made one leap of the loop.
Grahak is starting his day 15 with a real problem. For several days he has had a deep and stubborn blister in a untypical part of the forefoot. It may have been infected but that seems to have gone away. It does without question hurt. Despite this obvious discomfort he still managed to complete 70 miles yesterday. His courage and heart are second to none.
For all those who come and run this race they are tested and challenged like nothing else they have ever previously done before in their lives. Whatever character and strength they have will be forced to confront a task that is beyond challenging. It is impossible to complete and yet they do. Grahak in his 2nd attempt here last year took nearly 4 days off his previous outing and at the same time set an Australian record for this distance. At the start of day 15 he is nearly 30 miles ahead of the pace he set last year.
There are times when you see him out on the course and he resembles a bull dog. Albeit one that has no bark and no bite, yet there is a tenacious energy about him that relentlessly pushes him ever forward here. It is one so powerful that he will not be stopped by pain or discomfort. The mysterious contradiction in this is that when you talk and experience him more closely you would be surprised at his sweet and child like cheerful nature, that is all very much apart of Grahak Cunningham as well.
He is close to all the runners and very much embraces the community and family that exists here over the months the race takes place. At the same time he is without question a man with roots down under. His identification with his country is deep, just as those at home eagerly support him in his journey here a half a world away.
When asked about the group here he says, “It is like a family. It is Sri Chinmoy’s family. He created this world out here.” He realizes that many identify with the progress of not only himself but all the runners. When they identify with the race, “they can run with us. They can help us every step of the way. Without this help it would be much harder, if not impossible.”
For the first time he has a helper from Canberra named Nigel Weber. It all took place just a week before the start. Of him he says, “He is always smiling. and helping me. It is really nice. I look forward to him coming every morning.” The aid of a helper is a very practical matter when you are really trying to transcend your previous achievement. Grahak feels that Nigel is adding at least a lap a day to his total. “You don’t have to fiddle with your supplements and sun screen.”
But the relationship between the two is also happening on a deeper level than just help. There is an inner trust and caring that is clearly helping Grahak in his race this year. He mentions an incident that took place just a day ago. “Yesterday I was dying around 10 o’clock. I just made it back to camp and collapsed on the massage table. No one was around. Everyone was away at the function. Nigel just saw me out of the corner of his eye. He came over and started rubbing my legs. It was all friendship and concern. Afterwards I felt totally different. He helped me get through.”
When you talk with Grahak it sometimes feels as though his real battle is not with the hard miles put in here but in the decision to commit to the race and just come. He admits to having doubts and mentally denying that the 3100 is looming on the horizon and that the experience is drawing ever closer. It is easy to understand this. He says,”I guess it is the hardest thing you can probably do in your life. It is hard to get to the starting line.”
Clearly once he is here he is in his own element. For him he says, “You have to run around the course and you have to pray and meditate. You have to be inside your heart 51 days. It compels you to focus inwardly for that period of time. It is very hard to have that discipline in your regular life. That is where the Self-Transcendence aspect comes into it.”
When asked what the general public might get from the race he is clear. ” I hope it makes people realize they can go one step further than they think. They can take a step forward in their life and help the world in that sense. When you change yourself you change the world around you. If every one who watched the race realized that it would help the world immensely. As well they might learn about Sri Chinmoy, who is a perfect example of self-transcendence and inspiration to many thousands of people.”
For himself he says, “The best part that comes out for me is the sense you are pushing yourself beyond your limits. You feel, that despite your problems and imperfections you can come out of this a better person.”
Every day he is inspired by the presence of Parvati and her Enthusiasm Awakeners singing group. He describes what they do for him and the other runners as, “feeding us their enthusiasm and joy. They really help us along the long journey. They are out here every day, whether it is raining, sunshine or inclement weather. They are always singing with their heart’s joy Sri Chinmoy’s songs. It is so nice to have that every morning it keeps you up.”
He has also on a number of mornings performed little humorous skits much to the amusement of the girls. This morning he will not disappoint them. One might call it the old, “I can’t blow up a balloon bit.” He has brought in a more than willing additional cast member, Asprihanal. The props are just 2 balloons. Grahak easily blows up his balloon while Asprihanal can’t. Line, “I can’t blow up my balloon.” The answer being that the full balloon is placed into the ear of the one who can’t. One balloon goes down while the other is now easily inflated. The result hilarity all around. Grahak interview
Later in the day he will be getting some real help with his blister problem. When I return Shashanka is giving him a back rub and Nigel is working on a pad for his shoe. Dipali is there as well helping out. As one of the greats in distance running she can offer a wealth of experience. It was just a month ago that she set a new world record in the 6 day race. But she is also a fellow Australian and feels a special oneness for Grahak who shares with her the last name of Cunningham, though they are not related.
She says, “I treat him as a little brother. I think Grahak is such an addition to the race. He is so confident and so child like in a way. He really is an Aussie.” She describes for me his greeting to her when ever she comes by and you can hear the accent take on its distinct Aussie flavor. “He is so easy going like Australians, and he shows it here. I never see Grahak in a mood that is not inspiring. All the runners inspire me but I guess I favor him being an Aussie. People think that because he is a Cunningham that he is my brother.”
She doesn’t think that most people can really understand the tremendous achievement he accomplished here by moving from 14th up to 5 best in the all time 3100 mile record book. “What he did no one really has any idea. My God this little guy is amazing. He is so simple and so courageous. He is making it look easy.” With real concern and empathy she walks a ways out of the counting area with him. When she returns she says, “Grahak is truly a great little Aussie runner.” Dipali interview
Nigel has been helping Grahak since day one. He tells me that his visit here now is the first to New York in 2 years. He calls being here, “It is a beautiful fresh new experience all over again.” He had never been to the race before and says, “the experience is quite different then the mental idea you have. There is also a peaceful atmosphere here.”
He is relishing his experience as a helper and his fondness for both his job and Grahak is clearly evident. “Grahak can be very child like and quite sweet. This helps keep away negative qualities that would pull him back. Also deeper than that is a toughness and determination, and spiritual capacity as well.”
Of himself Nigel also has a tall order to fill as the days pass and the miles accumulate. “I am hoping to be able to surrender some self doubts. Can I stay the distance and remain committed and enthusiastic. So far the time has flown by. I have really enjoyed the whole time so far. It has been really good. It is a pleasure to help Grahak.” Nigel Webber interview
Sunday is weighin day for all the runners. Alakananda keeps track.
Change yourself slowly
Conditions will change immediately
Excerpt from Ten Thousand Flower-Flames, Part 20 by Sri Chinmoy.
2 responses to “June 28 Change Yourself Change the World”
A beautiful tribute to an inspiring and cheerful Aussie soul. Everyone in Australia is cheering Grahak on, and in turn we are feeling a deeper sense of oneness, inspiration and gratitude for all that a life of Self-Transcendence can bring. Good on ya Grahak!!
Thanks again Utpal for bringing us such in-depth reporting. The reality of the event feels so close, you could almost imagine you are doing a lap yourself. Great work Nige, Dipali, Salil and Grahak’s many other supporters. And good on you Grahak – we are with you all the way!