Think about the level of physical endurance you would need to complete a 243km race through mountains and rivers. Now imagine running, cycling and kayaking that distance blind-folded. Now we are talking about mental endurance.
Meet 27-year old Neelusha Memon, who is almost blind and yet determined to compete with more than 800 able-bodied racers in New Zealand’s Coast to Coast Challenge in February.
The Challenge, which spans across Southern Alps from Tasman Sea to Pacific Ocean, is a benchmark by which all other multi-sport events are judged, both here in New Zealand and overseas.
Competitors cycle 140km, run 36km (including a 33km mountain stage that crosses the Southern Alps) and kayak 67km of the grade two Waimakariri River through the Grand Canyon of New Zealand, the Waimakariri Gorge.
Neelusha, or Neelu as she is mostly known, is participating in the race to create awareness about disability. She wants to change the perception that people with disabilities have limitations.
“It was people’s perception of me and perceptions of my impairments that were disabling,” she told a news agency. “They think impairments are so limiting that [people with impairments] can’t do anything.”
The things that can be achieved when people have support are huge, she writes in a blog entry. “There is no way I could dream of finishing one leg of this race without the support of other people.
“Everyone needs support if they are going to attempt something hard, and by completing this race I want to prove that something most people with full abilities would not attempt to do, can be completed by someone with impairments when I have support!”
She is supported by a team that helps her in her training and will also participate in the race with her. For Coast to Coast, she will run with Nick Crocker and Glenn Hedges for the 36km run, before joining Oliver Marshall for the cycling leg. Finally, Warwick Taylor will support her in a tandem kayak.
When she was 17, Neelu suffered from a rare autoimmune disease that sent her in coma for four months. Following the brain injury, Neelu had to work hard to regain her functions. While she recovered most of her functions, she lost about 70% of her vision, which makes her technically blind.
“These impairments definitely make things harder for me, but they do not stop me.” She has competed in the para-cycling world-champs on a tandem cycle, climbed Mount Aspiring, and enjoys most sports. She has also completed her masters degree in disability policy at the University of Canterbury and she currently works as team leader for CCS Disability Action Group.
However, Coast to Coast will test not only her physical endurance but also her mental strength. “This will be the hardest challenge yet as both my sight and balance will be paramount in getting over the mountain run, and will make things slower.
“With a cut off time of eight hours it will be a massive push for me to even finish the stage; not to mention the kayak stage as well as the cycling stage!
She will rely on limitless support from her team. “I have an awesome crew of people working with me who are keen to get me through this race. One to guide me on the run, one to kayak with me in a two person kayak, and one to cycle with me on a tandem.Â These three fantastic people, not to mention the other people who have come on board to help me train for the race, will all get me through this race.”
Support Neelu’s cause: Limitless With Support