When John Khammuanlal Gwite (46) started cycling two years ago, at the peak of Covid-19 first wave, he was sure of one thing, that fitness cannot leave out mental health, community and well being.
Mr Gwite, a Paite-Zomi from Churachandpur in conflict-ridden Manipur, finished the arduous 1,200 km course of Paris-Brest-Paris (PBP) in 59 hours earlier this week.
Considered the oldest cycling event, dating back to 1891, it is a grueling race that takes participants from Paris to the Atlantic coast and back.
Mr Gwite not only emerged as one of the top contenders of the 290 participants from India but also secured an impressive global ranking at 248 out of 8,900 cyclists who had converged from around the world to take up this epic challenge.
The event is also referred to by many as the “Olympics of ultra-cycling”, and happens once every four years. When he started pursuing long distance cycling, many dissuaded him but he was firm in his resolve.
“I was 43 when I started cycling seriously. That is an age people generally refrain from taking up any challenging physical pursuit. Although I used to workout regularly and also pursued martial arts, international cycling events demand commitment and patience and my age was not seen as too conducive for that…But in my mind, I had only one thing. I wanted to show by example what discipline means to my children,” he said.
Mr Gwite’s family is based in Delhi. While his wife is a senior nurse in a government hospital, his son and daughter are in school.
His initial rides, which began as a means to escape the confines of home during Covid lockdown, but quickly transformed into an every day ritual.
“Covid-19 was a difficult time of uncertainty for all…we lost so many near and dear ones…I found cycling had a calming effect on me…I made many friends, and the every day ritual of cycling with friends from different backgrounds gave me joy and support. It felt that life keeps moving, come what may,” he said.
Mr Gwite’s first step onto the international cycling stage came with the London-Edinburgh-London (LEL) event in 2022, an ultra-endurance ride spanning 1,500 kilometers between London and Edinburgh.
This event marked his initiation into the world of long-distance cycling beyond Indian borders. LEL was trial by fire, an experience that would mentally and physically prepare him for the epic challenge of Paris-Brest-Paris (PBP). In India, he has undertaken the grueling climbs of Devbhoomi 1000 BRM, the unpredictable weather of Kumaon’s hills, or the relentless CKB 2022 Return.
It was not easy for Mr Gwite who shifted to Delhi from Manipur 20 years ago, and works in a data firm.
On Thursday, after finishing the race, one of the first calls he made was to his mother who is in Churachandpur. “It was the best news she had heard in a really long time. What is happening in my State saddens me… I just want to tell my people, no progress can happen without peace, and every problem can be solved through dialogue,” Mr Gwite said.