Devesh Khatu: Travelling the world for a cause, one marathon at a time
We still live in a world that is often too embarrassed to address or acknowledge the existence of genders and sexuality more than just two. But this pride month, we have stories to share of people who didn’t stop despite the world was too embarrassed to acknowledge their achievements. Because like Cassandra Duffy said, “The beauty of standing up for your rights is, others see you stand up as well.” Staying true to this, Devesh Khatu, a gay Marathon runner, has been inspiring people across the globe with his cause to raise funds for the HIV affected.
Devesh Khatu the Ideal Indian kid:
Devesh Khatu was never an athlete in his youth. He grew up in Mumbai, where he was often taunted for being feminine by his classmates. In school, he was always on the sedentary football team that never quite enjoyed PT periods. He was a topper throughout his school and college days. Topping the state in school meant an obvious entry into IITs. Which is where Devesh headed too. He said, “I had never been particularly athletic growing up, and had focused on academics in both high school and IIT. While I did run cross-country in our PT class at school, and occasionally to Vihar Lake, while at IIT, I was only a middle-of-the-pack runner. But I used to walk fast and had been called a “pansy” at IIT for my style. While I took it good-naturedly, I think it must have nevertheless touched a nerve somewhere.”
Devesh later moved to the states to get an M.S. in Computer Sciences from the University of Texas at Austin.
How the running bug bit him:
The move to the USA changed his life and lifestyle. He made habits that weren’t good for him, spent way more than he needed to, leading a life that would leave an impact on his health. In early 2003, he suffered from some serious health issues and decided that it was time to change his lifestyle. The first step he took, was to join a local running club where he ran up to 5 miles each Saturday morning. Soon he started taking part in some 5K and 10K races. The next year he ran the Bay to Breakers, an iconic 12 km race in San Francisco.
He said, “A couple of friends from the group had started running marathons. Also, a colleague at work ran one. I decided that it might be a good challenge to take on, and also prove that I was no pansy in the process! And thus, I took the next step: I signed up for a 5-month group-coached marathon training program, in return for fundraising for a local HIV/AIDS non-profit.”
Devesh never fancied the life of a software engineer and neither was it his passion. He had a lot of successful stints at various firms but the recession put a halt to that while opening newer doors. He was laid off from his job at the end of 2011, which is when he decided to take a year off work, for both a change of scenery and to travel the world. He visited a dozen countries in that year, and that is when the travel bug bit him.
Devesh says he knew he was gay at a very young age but never really understood what he was feeling. Going to the US gave him more perspective and he finally came out to a few friends. It took him a few years to talk to his family about his sexuality. Devesh finally mustered the courage to come out of the closet to his family a few years ago. As an athlete, he wants to change the stereotypes of the gay community who have often been misrepresented by Indian media. Gay men are always feminine and never athletic.
95th Marathon and counting:
Devesh has now transformed his love for running marathons into travel opportunities to places he has always wanted to visit. He is now working towards completing 100 marathons by the time he turns 50 and recently finished running his 95th marathon. The next marathon he is prepping for is The San Francisco Marathon this July. Ask him a little about his marathons and he will tell you this:
Special marathons: 75th in Mumbai in Jan 2015; raised Rs. 3 lakhs for Humsafar Trust
Toughest marathon: Great Wall of China Marathon, May 2014
Important Marathons: Boston (2009, 2010). You have to qualify with a time to be able to run Boston, and so that’s every marathon runner ultimate goal.
Chicago (2008). Ran his personal best of 3:18:52 there. Has run it 4 more times since, and that’s why he will be running it again for his 100th.
Boston, New York, Chicago, London, Berlin, Tokyo. These 6 are called the “World Marathon Majors”, and to use a tennis comparison, are like the Grand Slam of marathons. He has run all 6; only about 1,000 or so people worldwide have done this to date.
He says, “People keep asking me what keeps me running. There’s no one answer to it. Part of it is working towards my life goal. Part of it is pursuing my passions of running and travel. But perhaps the greatest satisfaction comes from what I’ve been told my many of my friends… that my running and zest for life have inspired them to take it on themselves, and/or lead healthier, fuller lives. It’s with that knowledge that I plan to continue to keep on running, at least as long as I can!”