“For me, it is all about setting new records,” said Ajay Lalwani. The visually-impaired cyclist, who is currently on a 7,500 km journey across India to raise awareness about road safety and the need for adequate lighting on our country’s roads, says he wants to better himself and do all that the world believes is not possible for him.
Beginning his journey from Gateway of India, Mumbai on November 15, 2021 at 4 am, he is now all set to travel twice across the length of the country — to Srinagar, Kanyakumari and back to Mumbai, cycling through 12 states over a course of 45 days. The 25-year-old, who has previously set two world records in blind cycling from Mumbai-Goa-Mumbai and Dadar–Gondia–Dadar, has now undertaken the Blind Cycling Expedition 2021.
“Every year, it is about undertaking a new challenge. And when I came to know about the expedition, I didn’t want to miss out on such an opportunity especially because the idea to create awareness about road safety coming from a visually-impaired person is a powerful message,” said the cyclist who is supported and sponsored by Signify (previously Philips Lighting), and is accompanied by a self-sustaining 18-member team (in cars) which includes navigation coordinators, cook, photographer, etc.
“Even visually-impaired can live, dream and realise their potential. But unfortunately, the support to people with disabilities (PwD) is lacking. I was rejected by so many sponsors for this expedition but I kept on pursuing to re-emphasise the idea that we can attempt and accomplish anything that we set our mind on,” said the Thane’s Ulhas Nagar-born cyclist who slowly started to lose vision as a child and is now “100 per cent blind”.
Ajay, who has also won several medals at the national level para-sports tournaments in Judo and Kabaddi, expressed how road accidents take so many lives every year, yet there are no lessons learnt. “Ever since we have started our journey, there have been issues every day that have held us back, from potholes to lack of street lights making the journey even more challenging and bumpy for us. But this is what I want to highlight and strive for. I want roads that even someone like me can also use independently and comfortably. Road safety is a must,” he told indianexpress.com over a telephonic interaction.
Notably, his team comprises mini teams which take four-hour turns to guide him with navigation (specific directions, the pace of his cycle, and continuous keeping up with him to prevent any mishaps). “They are seated in the trunk of the car with a walkie-talkie while there is one walkie-talkie attached to my ear and plugged close to my shoulder through which they give me instructions whether to go right, or stop, or ring the bell,” he shared.
Every day, Ajay and his squad are on the roads for 15 hours with three-four breaks for breakfast, lunch, and tea. His protein-based breakfast comprises eggs, paneer, sprouts at 9-9.30 am; lunch with rice, vegetables, and fruit juices or fruits, if am hungry in between meal times. “I have 6-8 litres of water every day from a camel pouch. That sustains me throughout the day,” said Ajay, who stops riding by 7 pm, and by 8 pm, they finish dinner and call it a day by 9 pm, sleeping either in tents or accommodation arranged by the sponsors.
The 1996-born, who has five siblings, was always “interested in sports”. “From swimming to trekking, I was interested in playing every other sport. Sports is, after all, good for fitness whether mental or physical,” said the cyclist who works with Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (Mumbai Mahanagar Palika).
Interestingly, he said he has a plan for every year mapped out which includes hikes, cycle rides, and many such adventures. “My biggest dream is to be the first visually-impaired person to climb Mount Everest. All these are helping me prepare better,” said Ajay, who does gymming, yoga, mallakhamb, swimming besides cycling to keep himself fit and agile.