Where did you grow up? Were you always into sports?
I was born in San Antonio, Texas in the summer of 1984. I had three brothers growing up, and we have always loved playing competitive sports, including basketball, soccer, baseball, and football. I was mostly into soccer and was pretty serious about becoming the first turbaned Sikh who was a professional soccer player. I was recruited by Trinity University to play college soccer, but unfortunately ankle injuries kept me from ever playing in an NCAA game.
What happened to your soccer dreams after that?
Once my soccer career ended, I began to take my studies more seriously. I quickly became enthralled with the study of history, literature, and religion and decided to pursue a graduate degree in South Asian Religions at Harvard University. Boston is a historic running city, and I began training more seriously for distance running while I lived there.
I also met the woman who would eventually become my wife — Gunisha Kaur — while living in Boston. She was a medical student at Cornell Medical College in New York City at the time, and after we were married, I joined Columbia University to continue my graduate work.
How has it been at Columbia? What have you been doing there?
I have helped teach a number of courses in the Department of Religion at Columbia University, including courses on Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism. My research topic specifically focuses on the early formations of Sikhism through the earliest accounts of Guru Nanak’s life. During my time in New York, I have become increasingly involved in Sikh education and advocacy, and I have also taken a part-time position with the Sikh Coalition.
What made you decide to run the world’s largest marathon?
When I first moved to New York City, I watched the New York City Marathon and decided that it was something I wanted to do before I died. Like many others, I was soon inspired by the amazing story of Fauja Singh, and I started training regularly. After two years of attempting to join the marathon through the lottery, I joined a charity team – Team in Training – to help honor those I knew who had battled with cancer. I completed my first New York City Marathon in 20011, and I have not missed one since. I have also competed in a number of other running competitions, from one-mile races to half-marathons, and I have loved becoming a part of the running community.
What in particular inspires you to run?
One of my favorite things about running is that it helps me develop mental discipline and fortitude. Running constantly challenges you to fight with your mind and push yourself to do better, and I find that this has really supplemented my spiritual development. I love the positive energy and community that comes with distance running, and I also just love being outdoors and enjoying the world around me.
I also run because I think it is a unique and effective way to challenge negative stereotypes about people who look like me. I want people to see that minorities are active participants in our society, just like anyone else. I want them to see that people of faith are not just spiritually focused, and that we can strike the balance of being spiritually developed and physically fit. I also want people to see Sikhs as human beings, who enjoy being healthy, active, and challenging themselves to obtain ambitious goals.
It seems like you have helped create a lot of positive awareness for Sikhi through your running. What have you done specifically and how do you think it helps minorities?
In the last few years, I have been fairly successful in achieving positive recognition for Sikh Americans through my efforts. I was selected as a Featured Runner for the 2011 New York City Marathon. I served as an ambassador for the Marathon’s Parade of Nations the past three years, and I also currently serve as one of five social media reporters for New York Road Runners. We recently helped launch a feature story about Sikh runners throughNewsday, and another one is due to be published in the premiere running magazine – Runners World – within the next month! It has been incredible to see how much positive energy and awareness has been created for our community through running efforts, and I am excited to help push this forward.
What is the competition in which you are currently involved, and how can the Sikh community support you?
I think winning this competition would be particularly helpful in that regard because the winner’s photo will be featured on a billboard in Times Square. Millions of people would see this image, and it would do wonders for humanizing Sikh Americans – and minorities in general. I think this is an incredible opportunity for Sikhs to make a mark on the world and to help spread positive light and energy among those who need it most. I appreciate all the support I have received from those who resonate with this message and will continue working towards this cause as it strengthens our community and the world.