Dr. Pushpa Chandra: Extreme Distance Runner
Dr. Pushpa Chandra is a naturopathic doctor and extreme runner. She has run over 500 marathons and ultra-marathons. In commemoration of her 60th birthday, she participated in the 2018 World Marathon Challenge aka 777, making her the oldest female to run seven marathons within seven days in seven continents.
Pushpa was born and raised in a tiny Fijian village called Dawa. As a child, Pushpa started running to and from school (8km each way) to save her bus fare money so she could use it to buy popsicles like her friends. “I never considered it as a run. I considered it as a mode of transportation. I always associated running with reward.”
Running was also a tool to get away from domestic violence. “My dad, he was a wonderful man, when he was not drunk. Whenever he drank, he was always violent. So I learned to hide. And a lot of times he could find the hiding spots. So then I had to sprint again.”
At 16, Pushpa was able to migrate to Canada through her brother. She was a teenage mom, with only the clothes on her back. “It was a bit of a shock. I think I really missed my homeland. I missed my friends, my school, my culture, and my food. It was very tough for two years. But I just found something within me—the strength to say that this is really is where my home is going to be.”
Pushpa was surrounded by illness and death as a child, which caused her to develop an interest in health care and dream of becoming a doctor. After finishing high school, Pushpa enrolled in nursing school. Thanks to her physical education class, Pushpa took up running again. After graduating, she got a job at Children’s Hospital and continued running. Soon, she was entering organized races, starting with 5k, evolving to 10k, half marathons, and marathons. Running became a spiritual experience—a time to reflect and mentally explore.
“The more difficulty I put myself through, the more discipline was required, the higher my connection to my subconscious. And I felt more and more aligned to my higher self, which really gave me this springboard to become who I am today.”
The desire to keep taking on bigger challenges led Pushpa to enter an Iron Man triathlon. “I think I was crying for the last kilometer because I couldn’t believe that I had mastered swimming and biking. At the finish line, a world renowned ex-Olympian coach came up to me and said, ‘Congratulations, you are a very talented runner.’ I considered myself as fast and competitive but never someone that was gifted…It went straight to my mind. I remember saying, I can do anything if I want to put my mind to it. I can do anything I want to do. And that’s when I decided that I wanted to go back at age 42. To pursue my bigger dream, which was to go back to medical school.”
Pushpa registered right away for med school prerequisite classes and was accepted to med school to become a doctor of Naturopathic Medicine. She continued to learn more about the human body and the mind, and it fueled her newfound confidence.
After graduating from medical school at age 50, Pushpa completed her first ultra marathon at Mount Everest base camp, kicking off a new passion: international extreme ultra marathons. Since then, Pushpa has run a marathon at the North Pole, held the record time for a woman in the Antarctica 100km ultra race, ran through crocodile-infested swamps in Madagascar, run over open safari plains in South Africa, and run Marathon Des Sables in Morocco—a six-day, 251 km race through scorching desert heat and difficult terrain.
“They’re all so special. They’ve all brought me so much knowledge. They’ve all been my mentors in so many ways, and they’ve always had a very deep reflection about my life. Running is a moving meditation. My subconscious is so awake, because it’s not distracted by the phones or by the traffic… it’s like being in a temple. It really is what it is. It’s a place. It becomes a place for me to worship for life because life is a gift.
“Running empowered me to believe in myself. And that’s what sport does. Exercise takes you to this very high spiritual experience. And that’s the message. It’s not about physical exercise. It’s about the spiritual exercise.”
Photo courtesy of Dr. Pushpa Chandra.
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