Inspiring Stories


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30 Oct, 2023

The ‘Can-do’ Spirit

Rohit Pathak was ready for every rival – but cancer wasn’t one of them. Here’s what happened next. 

You could say that endurance cyclist, long distance runner and cancer conquerer Rohit Pathak’s life is a marathon without pitstops. One surprise after another, and not all of them pleasant. Sometimes, there will be raucous fans cheering him along as he chews up the hostile miles on his bike with effortless mastery. Sometimes, it’s a far lonelier ride – a deeply personal battle with strange, invisible foes.

The 41yearold’s classic chronicle of ‘even-ing the odds’ begins back in 2016, a time when hiss dentary corporate lifestyle saw him balloon to an unhealthy 115kg. He couldn’t fit into his clothes. About to become a father, Rohit didn’t want to be “the obese guy’ when his son grew up. I had to do something, and the first step was getting fit. It took me a moment to choose cycling. That changed my life,” he flashbacks. His wife gifted him an MTB bike with an attached caveat : It should not turn into a clothes-hanger.

The first day out in the grand outdoors wasn’t exactly a walk in the park. “The Surajkund road is not easy terrain. I rode 15kms”, recalls Rohit. He increased the mileage gradually, and before long, was enjoying the experience. An introduction with the Delhi Cyclists group followed, and before Rohit knew it, his transformation from a generic cyclist to an endurance rider was under way.

Four days before his son was born, Rohit Pathak completed his first ride, a 200km jaunt. He was still fat, so when he did the Delhi-Panipat-Delhi ride after that, the feat felt unreal even to him. Says Rohit, “I cycled really long distances, including the Brevets. And I did the G2G Delhi-Bombay ride twice in successive years. From 115 I came down to 90kg in a year and a half.”

The Delhi-Bombay G2G ride in December 2017 turned out to be a masterclass – not just in cycling, but life itself. Rohit had ventured in with no structured approach. He rode about 14 hours every day and was usually one of the last cyclists to return to the camp at night. By Day 3, he was ready to quit. “It was 11-30 pm when I reached the camp. I was looking for motivation and called a friend and my wife. I cried myself to sleep.”

The next morning, as his sleepy eyes – still puffy from last night’s tears – grazed over the far horizon, they were greeted by a beautiful surprise, the most spectacular sight he had ever seen : A crimson sunrise – casting its rays luxuriously over the rolling terrains that stretched far and wide on either side of the Bhilwara-Kherwada road. “I was crying again”, Rohit Pathak confesses. This time though, the tears were those of joy. The soul had finally met its motivation. It came from a special place, a place deep within.

Rohit brushed aside all thoughts of calling off the ride and “hopping onto a truck”, in his own words. He wanted to be able to stand in front of the mirror and look  himself straight in the eye without feeling guilty. It was to be his A-Ha moment, his U-Turn. “In moments of stress, I learnt to break down the target into smaller goals of 10 kilometers,” he shares.

He took on the next year’s G2G ride with a vengeance. “I had lost 15kg and had a better bike. I finished by 7-30 each night, ultimately wiping off 24 hours on the whole ride”,  Rohit Pathak says– the glint of glee in his eyes unmistakable, oozing fulfilment.

And then the unthinkable happened. Cancer struck. Rohit becomes serious as he retraces the rollercoaster emotions of a ride he hadn’t trained for. “No one is ever ready for cancer. I was fit, cycling 140km and running 80km each week. I completed the Berlin Marathon in September 2021 in just over four hours. How could I have any cancer?” At the event, the biopsy on the lymph that was removed confirmed it as Stage 1 cancer. It was the April of 2022. Rohit had just turned 40.

His oncologist was convinced that Hodgkinson’s lymphoma had been lingering in his body for some years. Rohit’s fitness, however, had kept immunity levels high – preventing the condition from spreading. A PET scan confirmed that there was no other lymph nodes in the body.

As he battled his new foe, the life saving impact of that fateful decision in 2016 – to take up cycling and lose weight – hit home hard. Rohit could feel the gratitude welling up inside every time his mind wandered over to those long, grueling hours spent on the endurance trails and marathon tracks. He hadn’t given up. Now, life wouldn’t give up on him.

And so it was that four sessions of chemotherapy and 14 sessions of radiation later though, Rohit Pathak found himself on the bicycle track again. Back, where he belonged. Cancer wasn’t a setback. The indomitable survivor spirit of this proud, Faridabad based ace-pedalist had ensured that it would be no more than a mere chapter in the grand saga of his life. One he is busy rebuilding, one kilometer at a time.

Cancer, of course, had left behind lifelong learnings. Invaluable ones. It had taught the never-say-never-again champion to remain strong, especially when the hour was the darkest. Indeed, the sport has re-engineering Rohit inside out, resetting nearly every aspect of his life, not just his attitude and mindset. His sleep patterns, nutrition, lifestyle, everything had become better, more structured, more positive.

His profound experiences have convinced Rohit that sport isn’t just a good-to-have : It is a must-have in life. And a little deeper than flaunting fancy gears on Instagram. It’s an ‘inside job’, as they say.

“Sport is not about buying good gear. It is about the commitment it needs. The approach is important. Take up physical fitness. Improve lifestyle. You are doing it for none but yourself.  Go with a positive mindset… and Fight,” Rohit Pathak says.

You heard the champ. That’s the way the marathon of life is won.