5-kilometres! That’s approximately the distance from Kuala Lumpur City Centre (KLCC) to Jalan Ipoh, a quick 10-minute drive (with no traffic congestion). Not too bad for a brisk run, you might think. Now, how about running that distance…in a saree? Well, that’s exactly what these gutsy ladies, ranging from mid-40’s to 60’s did! Stop squinting now…you read that right- these 8 ladies covered 5-kilometres in Damansara Heights with the help of friends, family, and a total of 58 safety pins between them.
Malaysia’s FIRST EVER Saree Run successfully raised over RM17,400 for welfare body PERMA (Perseketuan Perkhidmatan Masyarakat Ceylonese Selangor dan Wilayah Perseketuan), of which two runners are committee members of. Funds collected will be utilised by the group in their endeavours, which include providing aid and assistance to the elderly, underprivileged and physically challenged. The runners also aimed to break the stereotype of sarees being a difficult piece to move around in.
Two of the participants, radiologist Dr. Anushya Vijayananthan, and her sister, accountant Sasha Vijayananthan, daughters of ‘Mr.Hockey’, G. Vijayananthan, had a more sentimental reason for running in saree. Both women ran the 5-kilometres clad in sarees belonging to their late mother, Rajaletchmy, who was also a member of PERMA and had contributed a great deal to charity. Anushya remarked that it felt priceless for her, and sister Sasha, to be doing their part in memory of their mother’s 10th death anniversary on 29th November.
The run was completed in just over an hour, with the number of participants limited to eight, due to lockdown restrictions. The women received whole-hearted support from their friends and family, who rode alongside in cars, cheering them on to the finish.
Keep scrolling to read our interview with these game changers, and see what they had to say of their experience!
Q: What sparked this fundraising effort into action?
A: 2020 has been challenging for so many and the idea of running for a cause when first sounded to the runners, were embraced wholeheartedly. The idea of a saree run was first mooted by Dr. Bharathi Vengadasalam, and her good friend, Ms. Rupa Sivanoli, was roped in to help with the early organisation of things. After understanding the SOP’s and permit requirements, we prepared for the big day. From the moment the other ladies joined in, they were very positive and supportive and with this common goal, everything just fell into place naturally.
Q: Why choose a Charity Run as a fundraising method? What gave you the idea?
A: The idea of a saree run came before the idea of fundraising. We decided to do it for our love of sarees and to demonstrate its versatility. It was the marriage of sarees and fitness. Our immediate families showed a lot of enthusiasm from the start, and this motivated us to look into the give back aspect. We approached our friends and family using social media and most found the idea novel and intriguing and wanted to chip in and support.
On further research, we saw that saree runs were held annually in India and it started with the idea of getting women out and running to ensure they embraced fitness, regardless of the attire they had on. In fact, there are ultra-runners and marathon runners in India who run in sarees.
Q: Why the saree, (instead of sports gear), does it bear any significance?
A: Even before sports gear was invented, thousands of years back, women wore sarees daily. They would perform household or work related tasks in a saree. Our ancestors donned sarees over distances and over lifespans through their struggles and celebrations. It’s only today that wearing a saree is narrowly interpreted as something to be worn for weddings or special occasions. When we ladies were growing up, our mothers used to wear sarees to work fairly regularly. Not so much a practice we have continued, sadly. This run was to remind and showcase the versatility of this timeless garment.
Q: How would you describe the experience of running in sarees?
A: Mixed; some ladies found it to be liberating and felt that they could run even longer distances or faster, others felt a little insecure and grateful that there were safety pins to assist. We watched YouTube tutorials and consulted with each other on the best methods to keep it secure and avoid any wardrobe malfunctions midway through the run.
Q: How did you (collectively) prepare for the run?
A: We prepared individually by running 3-5kms and sometimes longer a few times a week. There was no opportunity to do this together as all ladies are busy professionals, half of whom are doctors. Some ladies are regular runners so no issues when it came to preparing. A route was mapped out by one of the runners that had a mix of flat and uphill areas . This was shared in advance to all the runners, despite the small group. Families of the runners also familiarised themselves with the route so that they could be nearby to assist, by bicycle or car.
Q: What were the challenges you faced before, during and after the run?
A: The weather! Most evenings it tends to rain heavily and this was a concern from the start. The ladies were quite prepared to run even if it drizzled, but luckily it did not come to that. Given the pandemic, we had to keep the numbers to below 10, and for the Inaugural Saree Run 2020 we all felt 8 was a nice number to have an intimate group of friends doing something positive together. If there were too few it might look like we were running after the ‘puttu mayam’ man! So, the numbers helped with giving each other the courage to do something different.
Q: What will the money collected be used for?
A: To our surprise, we managed to raise more than RM17,400 for a Malaysian welfare body, PERMA. Two of our runners, Ms. Indra Somasundram and Ms. Sumitra Ananthan are PERMA committee members. From the onset, we were well aware on the progress of collections and how the funds would be channelled, given their commitment and support towards the run. We thank all our donors for their trust and support.
PERMA is a well established charity organisation, assisting the elderly, underprivileged and physically challenged. PERMA has also done a lot of projects to help those who have suffered during this pandemic and we saw fitting to help where we could.
Q: What is it that drives you to do all that you are doing?
A: The saree is the hero of this story. Reflecting our heritage and womanhood, the humble drape has stood the test of time over 5000 years. As a functional and versatile garment, it has been a faithful companion to our mothers and ancestors. There is nothing the saree cannot do! In these times, gym or running attire is associated with Nike, Adidas and the rest. We did not want to play by those rules. Running in the saree reminded us that we could take up contemporary roles; yet uphold our cultures and traditions.
Having said that, 2 of our runners, sisters Sasha and Anushya Vijayanathan ran in their late mother’s saree as a way to honour her memory on her 10th year death anniversary. Their mother, Mrs. Rajaletchmy herself had been a member of PERMA .
Q: If given the chance, would you do this again?
A: Yes!! All runners felt very positive after we completed the run, and would certainly attempt it again. In fact, there has been some interest from family and friends to join in when we do this next.
Q: Do you have any words of wisdom or encouragement for the younger generation?
Not very sure how qualified we old ladies (average age of runners is 52) are to impart any words of wisdom, but our experience with this shows that if there is a will there’s a way; remain positive and trust that divine grace is on your side. We would add, never be afraid to try something new and if you surround yourself with like-minded people, they will surely lift you to achieve your goals. Align yourself to a calling or purpose, and let it grow.
Wise words from wise women. Kudos to them, and here’s to many more progressively ground-breaking strides!