By Gayathri Anuradha Y
The usually busy roads of Chennai are fast turning into a haven for cycling enthusiasts across the city. Be it as pleasure or as a professional career, these cyclists have taken to the streets to explore all their favourite places. One such cyclist, who wants to put Chennai on the global cycling circuit, is Lakshmi Thangadurai. The 24-year-old, who had an online jewellery business, had never considered cycling as a profession. But multiple tournaments across Chennai and one state-level gold medal later, the cycling track has become her life. She admits, however, that it had all started as a hobby.
Cycling had been Lakshmiâ€™s attempt at reducing weight. With the bicycle she received on her 23rd birthday, she started accompanying â€śWe are Chennai Cycling Groupâ€ť (WCCG) on their organized cycle rides around the city. During her time at WCCG, she was introduced to her coach, Gratian Mathew Govias who encouraged her to consider cycling as a career. Taking his advice, she has never looked back since.
Many organizations like the Tamil Nadu Cycling Club have held races like Duathlons (running and cycling) and Time Travel (travelling a certain distance in given amount of time). In just one year, Lakshmi has emerged as a champion in all these tournaments and has now set her sights on the national level.
Lakshmi has also become quite adept at chalking out paths for herself across the city. Many cycling groups have established chapters across the city. For example, WCCG itself has multiple chapters like in the city, such as Marina, Anna Nagar and Tambaram. Lakshmi cycles along one of the more popular ones- the circuit from Old Mahabalipuram Road (OMR) to Madhya Kailash. This route has also become a favourite among those looking to take long pleasure rides on their bicycles. On weekends, the roads of the city are exchanged for highways, as cyclists ride to the outskirts. For Lakshmi, the trips she has made to Mahabalipuram, Vedanthangal Bird Sanctuary and Chembarambakkam remain the most memorable as she thinks that these rides bring out the actual joy of cycling with a group. They travel as far as 100 kilometers for three days a week and around 700-750 kilometers on the weekends, stopping at their favourite food joints en route.
Speaking about the demographic of the cyclists, Lakshmi says, â€śI have noticed that in terms of age, many in the cyclistsâ€™ groups are over 30 years, while only 10% of the group comprise of people below 25. However, it is the complete opposite when it comes to state level cycling meets, where you see kids as young as 9 take part. The reason for this has been unclear to me. But it would be great to see more of the younger age group participate in events held in Chennai tooâ€ť.
One might say that the weather of the city is not always suitable for outdoor activities like cycling. However, Lakshmi laughs it off saying, â€śWe try to avoid the sun as much as possible by cycling early in the morning. Initially, you are very concerned about getting tanned. But after a point, you just stop caringâ€ť. She suggests that, as a cyclist in the hot city, one has to constantly keep themselves hydrated. The food intake has to include large amounts of proteins and eight-hours of sleep is absolutely necessary.
Despite the support she has received from her parents, Lakshmi admits that they were initially apprehensive about letting her go on long cycling trips as it would be quite late in the night by the time she got home. She also says that her relatives were quite dismissive of her choice of cycling as a career which led her to doubt her decision. However, in the same breath, she adds, â€śBut now I am quite happy that I have become a professional cyclist. The awards and recognition have assured me that this is the right thing to do. I will now wait for the day when I can put Chennai on the global cycling mapâ€ť.