Running the way, not running away

Shalini Kana will be adding the 21km race in the Great Eastern Women's Run on Nov 3 to her resume, which includes more than 25 marathons.
Shalini Kana will be adding the 21km race in the Great Eastern Women's Run on Nov 3 to her resume, which includes more than 25 marathons.ST PHOTO: ONG WEE KIAT

She once avoided PE lessons but health scare turned Shalini Kana into avid runner to stay in shape

With more than 25 marathons under her belt, it may come as a surprise that Shalini Kana once hid in the toilet to avoid training during physical education lessons.

The avid runner overcame her aversion to exercise when doctors discovered a mature, benign teratoma tumour in her right ovary eight years ago.

She underwent three cycles of chemotherapy after the tumour was removed.

Not wanting to experience that again, Shalini, who had struggled to keep her weight down till then, set out on the path to a healthier lifestyle.

The 25-year-old said: "That was when it hit me that I needed to keep my health in check.

"Getting into the routine was the hardest part but the main motivation was definitely not going back to the hospital with needles stuck in me."

She started small, beginning with walks before taking up aerobic dancing classes.

Her walks turned into runs and soon, she was clocking a weekly distance of between 30km and 40km.

HEALTH CONCERN

Getting into the routine was the hardest part but the main motivation was definitely not going back to the hospital with needles stuck in me.

SHALINI KANA, marathon runner, on the need to keep her health in check after a health scare eight years ago.

Since then, she has lost 35kg from her 95kg frame, but gained a love for running.

Shalini, who works as a social emotional learning facilitator, will be adding the 21km race in the Great Eastern (GE) Women's Run on Nov 3 to her list of runs.

"I have met many people who have participated in more (marathons) than I have and I use that as my motivation," said Shalini, who hopes to finish inside 2hr 20min in her third GE run.

Apart from exercise, she also maintains a healthy diet.

This entails drastic changes, which include cutting out some of her favourite fare such as fast food and sugary drinks, reducing her rice intake and replacing snacks with healthier options like fruits and yogurt.

She also highlighted the importance of family support, a crucial element that helped her through the health problem.

Her father and cousin joined her in one of her first races, a 5km run in the Race Against Cancer in 2014.

Her father, N. Kanagavijayan, also drives her to and fro for most of her runs, which often take place early in the morning while her mother now cooks healthier meals with low-sodium and low-fat ingredients.

"My parents gave me emotional support by being there for me every step of the way," she said.

"The people around me actually got me through my emotional turmoil and I feel this is so important.

"For those that may not have strong family support, I hope they will be open to reaching out to centres that can provide them with support and help."

Kanagavijayan, 62, recalled: "Before my daughter's health crisis, my wife and I did not bother about the kind of food she ate as we thought then that she was too young to fall sick.

"All we are doing now is to fervently support her perseverance in her physical exercise. We all have to value our health and be thankful for it."

It is also with the support of her friends that Shalini now embraces the scars from her treatment.

She said: "I look at them now as battle scars to remind me every day of not just the suffering, but also the victory that has led me to become who I am today."

• For more information and to register: www.greateasternlife.com/greateasternwomensrun

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 13, 2019, with the headline 'Running the way, not running away'. Print Edition | Subscribe