India Abroad May 21, 2010
Seven years ago, my friend Akhil Chopra sked me to ride the MS-150 with him. I never rode with him because I was
recovering from surgery on a knee ligament.
But after he died, I took up his helmet and
decided to go for it. I have been doing the
MS-150 for the past three years and I’ve had
the good fortune of having my wife join me
for the last two.
When I got on my bike for the first time, I
thought that I was only doing the MS-150 to
honor Akhil’s memory. I should have realized
that anything associated with Akhil would
bring me great joy as well. Riding among the
thousands of dedicated riders and seeing
their happy faces was immensely fun. Riding
was great for my knees. And riding through
the beautiful American countryside was truly
inspiring as well. I only wish that I could have
ridden with Akhil.
When I crossed the finish line the first time,
my wife Sushma was there to greet me, cheering and ecstatic with my success. She was
inspired by the people streaming over the finish line with smiles on their faces, and agreed
to ride with me next year. Some of my best
times with Sushma were about to come.
Initially, training Sushma was a challenge,
and we got into a few arguments over her
education. She had never ridden a bike before
but insisted she knew what she was doing.
We have been married for 25 years, so I know
when to back down!
I asked my friends Hemant Jhadav, team
captain, and Sanjeev Jashwant to help her
train. She soon flourished. She did fall quite a
few times though. This year, she fell flat on
her face in the middle of a practice ride, and
we had to rush her to the doctor. Seeing her
face bruised and blood on her shirt was scary.
I told her that her safety was the most important thing and that she didn’t have to ride if
she didn’t want to. But our children called her
and encouraged her to complete the ride. She
got back on her bike and all the team members called her Jhansi ki Rani for being such a great warrior.
Everyone should remember how important it is to wear a
helmet, no matter how short the distance you are riding.
Sushma’s helmet prevented her from serious injury. I wear
Akhil’s helmet, and I truly believe that it protects me as
well as motivates me.
Sushma and I had never spent as much time together as
we did riding the MS-150. We stayed together the whole
time — I rode behind her, I hopped off my bike and walked
with her when she was tired, we climbed hills together. We
laughed at the people greeting us at every stop with country music and bubbles. Like young teenagers, we spontaneously jumped into flower beds to take pictures. We met
old friends, and were inspired by the number of young second-generation Indian-American riders participating. We
even got massages together at the middle of the day! We
took our time and rode slowly to make sure that we would
The power of wheels
the rain. All the rooms had been booked,
but the owner Kamlesh Patel agreed to let
us sleep in the conference room. The
owner’s family was very kind to us; his family cooked us a delicious Indian breakfast.
The food at rest stops is great and not junk
food. I ate over 24 oranges on the first day!
Ten miles from the finish line, things
started to get rough. A lot of tired riders got
off their bikes to walk up the steep hill, and
so did Sushma . She started singing the
Hanuman Chalisa for courage, and I joined
in with her for the first time. She called me
out on missing a few stanzas though, and
she’s threatening to tell my mom!
With cheers of Jai Ho, Vijay Ho, the Star
team cruised to the end of the MS-150. I
rode with an American flag in my hand, and
everyone cheered us on proudly. Hearing
people shout “Long Live America” at me
filled my heart with pride.
Waiting at the finish line were two surprises. Our son and daughter, Bharat and
Kavita, were there with a big box of
Samosas. We attacked the savories with
such vigor that we drew some attention.
It will take a while for us to recover and to
get biking out of our dreams. When we
arrived at Sheetal Rathi’s for a celebratory
dinner, we could do little more than eat. But
when I sat down to take off my shoes, I realized I was too tired to even unlace them.
Little Krupa Rathi, my 5-year-old niece,
rushed to my rescue. It was a sweet end to
the journey. I’m so glad that I got to celebrate the MS-150’s 25th anniversary and
our own 25th wedding anniversary together, by riding my bike across the finish line
with my wife.
The National MS Society estimates that
multiple sclerosis affects approximately 3
million people worldwide. This year, about
13,000 cyclists have participated with a
fundraising target of $17 million.
Our team captain always reminds us not
to skip work the next day. All team members showed up to
work but I am not sure how efficient we were. Our team has
grown every year; from four members tour team to 17.
Hopefully, both Sushma and I will be part of an even larger team next year!
Participating in charity bicycle rides organized
by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society can be a
life-changing experience, says Vijay Pallod
Sushma and Vijay Pallod
be safe. We got passed up by kids, elderly people — even a
unicycle! But it was okay because we had a great time
When I rode with the Star Pipe Team my first year, we got
to sleep in a tent under the stars. The other members in my
tent were clearly engaged in a snoring competition though,
and I had to wait in line for two hours to get a hot shower.
This was a unique experience for me because I never slept
in a tent before. But when I was in line to get my fresh pancakes at 4:30 in the morning, I asked a 70-year-old volunteer what time he had to wake up. He cheerily replied that
he had been up since 2 am preparing our breakfast. The
thousands of volunteers for the MS-150 are truly hard
workers. My nephew, Pankaj Malani, was one of them this
year, and we are immensely proud of him.
This year though, we chose to stay in a motel because of
Vijay Pallod is a Houston-based community activist
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Dr Jaswinder Singh Sandhu