The last time he rode his cycle, onlookers greeted him. Some even asked for a selfie. And why not? How often do we see a blind cyclist on roads? Meet Ajay Lalwani who did not let his vision deter his spirits to pedal a 7500-km-long journey across India.
Ajay Lalwani was born with a vision impairment. He was introduced to cycling when he was nine-years-old. "My brothers held the cycle’s handle and gave me directions to help me pedal forward," he recalls. His friends and onlookers felt that he would not be able to scale miles due to his condition. Some even suggested him to ride a tandem cycle as it has the provision for a blind person to sit at the back of the rider and pedal. But he never wanted to use a cycle that did not give him handling rights.
Nothing deterred Ajay's dream of becoming a cyclist. In fact, this 25-year-old cyclist has recently completed a 45-day and 7,500km-long-journey from Mumbai to Kashmir and thereon to Kanyakumari on his cycle, spreading awareness on road safety and the need for adequate lighting on Indian roads.
“People still ask me how do you manage to ride despite being visually impaired. I tell them, there is nothing impossible. I want to achieve everything that people think is impossible for a blind person to achieve,” he says.
This is not the first time that he has undertaken a long journey. He in fact, has several such accomplishments in his kitty. In 2019, he took a 4000 kms-ride from Mumbai-Pune, Mumbai-Nasik and Mumbai-Vaasi. He has also set two world records in blind cycling from Mumbai-Goa-Mumbai and Dadar-Gondia-Dadar. However, unlike his previous expeditions, this one was special for him as it eased him financially.
“I got a sponsorship from Signify (previously Philips Lighting). The company provided me and my team with vehicles as well as walkie talkies. They took care of our accommodation, food, (cycling) kit and water back-up, among other things. Had I not received the sponsorship, I had to apply a loan for making travel and logistics arrangements,” he shares.
Ajay works as a telephone operator at the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation. His limited income does not come to his rescue. He has a team of people who also accompany him on rides and their costs also fall on him. Ajay's team includes 16 volunteers and two cars, besides other necessities, to help him navigate.
“Cars carry my luggage and help manoeuvre traffic. One car precedes my cycle and the other, follows it so that I can travel safely, avoiding any mishaps,” he explains.
His team of volunteers become his eyes while traveling. “I always need two volunteers who sit on the trunk of the car preceding my cycle with a walkie talkie in their hands. They give me directions on the road. I follow navigation based on their instructions through the walkie talkie pinned on the string of my backpack. We talk back and clarify doubts, if any. They instruct me on red lights, directions and speed breakers, as well as monitor my speed to avoid an accident,” he shares.
Driving on highways isn't easy. Ajay blindly follows their instructions in literal sense. That is why he chooses his team of volunteers carefully and with utmost seriousness through a rigorous training process.
Ajay points that they are tested several times before being taken on the final journey. “They are challenged through mock rides and practice sessions. I test them for their sense of direction, vigilance and clarity with which they give instructions. Those who pass these hurdles accompany me on the final ride,” he says.
Besides cycling, Ajay is a lover of other sports and fitness activities. He has represented India in judo at the international level and swimming at the national level. He also led Maharashtra in kabaddi at the national level. In his spare time, he enjoys gymming, mallakhamb and yoga to keep himself in shape.
Having achieved so much, it’s hard to imagine what’s next is in his kitty? But just like his rides, he has a plan carved out in his mind. “I want to climb Mount Everest and I have already begun my practice. I want to become the first visually-impaired person to climb Everest,” he shares.
With such grit, dedication and determination, it seems that he might reach for stars someday.