FEEL GOOD | Inspiring SA cancer survivor helps raise nearly R400k for charity by trekking across India

2020-01-29 07:13
Retired project engineer, Bala Gangiah (58) trekked over 550km in India raising nearly R400k for a Durban charity.

Retired project engineer, Bala Gangiah (58) trekked over 550km in India raising nearly R400k for a Durban charity. (Supplied/Bala Gangiah)

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A Durban grandfather and cancer survivor, who trekked more than 550km across India for charity, says the mental determination to raise funds for those in need helped push him past the finish line.

"We went through many a tough time, especially with blisters during the second half of the journey, but we knew that the pain would only last until we cross the finish line, and if we didn't, it would last forever. This gave us all the focus to keep going," said 58-year-old retired project engineer Bala Gangiah on Tuesday.

The Durban North cancer survivor and his walking partner have to date raised more than R380 000 for the Chatsworth Hospice following a gruelling 574km walk across India.

"We have raised R380 000 so far and donations are still coming in. We are hoping to reach the R500 000 mark before February 15, 2020, when the Walk of Life fundraiser officially closes."

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Gangiah returned to South Africa earlier this month having completed the gruelling 17-day walk from Pondicherry on India's east coast to Kochi on the west coast.

Gangiah, who left South Africa a dad and returned a grandfather, is no stranger to incredible physical feats.

He has run 20 marathons, five ultra-marathons including the Comrades, trekked to the Everest base camp, and in 2018 he conquered Africa's highest mountain, Mount Kilimanjaro, just six months after losing a kidney to cancer.

Gangiah was accompanied on the Walk of Life by Jay Moodley, 51, (pictured below) a South African who now lives in India.

Bala Gangiah and Jay Moodley

Moodley is himself a survivor of a different kind, having defied the odds to pull through after being shot three times in South Africa and left for dead during a hijacking.

The men set out on the historic venture on December 7, 2019.

Walking an average of 35.87km per day, they completed their trek for charity three days ahead of schedule on December 23, 2019. Gangiah returned to South Africa on January 10.

Kogi Singh, the president of the Chatsworth Regional Hospice Association, said it was "deeply indebted" to Gangiah for the financial injection.

The hospice is manned by volunteers who provide free palliative care to individuals battling cancer, HIV-related illnesses and chronic diseases.

"It has been an incredible journey for us, to walk with Bala and Jay, courtesy of a WhatsApp chat group that kept us informed daily through messages, photographs and videos," said Singh.

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She said they felt included in the walk. 

"It was as though we were actually there, sharing in their experiences, meeting the people of India and applauding this courageous and historic venture with them. Congratulations to our two heroes on completing their goal in record time. Our gratitude knows no bounds."

Preparing to trek 30km a day

Speaking to News24 on Tuesday, Gangiah described how he and Moodley had spent months preparing their minds and bodies for the strenuous undertaking.

"First, we kept ourselves reasonably fit up to September 20, 2019. We then walked a total of 1 200km until November 20, 2019. Logie Govender, who completed 20 Comrades, was our coach and adviser. This specific training helped us keep our lactic tolerance levels up so we could do about 30km per day for 20 days continuously."

Testing his mental and physical fortitude, Gangiah said he had some of the most memorable experiences of his life.

During their first day, Gangiah and Moodley were welcomed by 500 schoolchildren, teachers and principals, various religious heads, doctors from the local cancer hospital, a live band, members of The Pondicherry Rotary Club, and a district minister.

"News about the Walk of Life quickly spread across India and in most of the towns that we stopped to end the day, we were welcomed by local rotary club members who had organised their own march and cancer awareness programmes," he said.

Despite the widespread support, the physical challenges of the trek demanded a rigorous, strong mindset.

Gangiah said he would advise young people to persevere and uplift one another.

"You cannot just sit back and allow your goals to mount on you. You can achieve them one at a time. Don't lose hope."

Anyone interested in finding out more can read more on Walk of Life's Facebook page or their website.

Read more on:    india  |  durban  |  feel good
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