Despite financial constraints at home, my parents always supported me, says Adil Teli, 23, who cycled 3,600km from Kashmir to Kanyakumari last month in eight days, 1 hour and 37 minutes, breaking the previous world record of eight days, 7 hours and 38 minutes by Om Mahajan.
This was also what kept him going during the gruelling eight days when he would cycle for 18-19 hours a day and sleep for just two hours. "Every time I wanted to give up, I would remember my mother, who had become very emotional when I started the journey from Srinagar's Lal Chowk on 22 March," says Teli on the phone from Narbal in Srinagar's Budgam district. Earlier, in 2019, Teli, who is a final-year bachelor of physical education student at Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar, and represents Jammu and Kashmir, had cycled from Kashmir to Leh, covering a distance of 440km in 26 hours, 30 minutes.
For the Kashmir to Kanyakumari event, where he aimed to break a Guinness World Record, Teli trained for six months at the university. He would train four hours every day, six days a week, taking complete rest on the day off. His weekly schedule: cycling 250km each on two days; 100km each on two days; and 60-80km on the remaining two days. Gym sessions for building strength and muscle endurance, where the focus was on legs and upper body, were done twice a week and core exercises once a week.
I ask him how was he training during the lockdown last year. Teli laughs and says he would get out of the house around 5.45am and cycle for over two hours on the Srinagar-Jammu national highway! Was he ever caught? No one would be out at that time, he chuckles.
During the eight days, his target was to cover 440km a day. He had a crew of eight following him, including a physio and nutritionist. He rode Cervélo S3 and his reserve bike was Merida, a Taiwanese bike. Teli says the Cervélo S3, a well-known Canadian bike, was the one he always wanted. That he could realise his dream to ride it was because of Abraq Agro, a Kashmir-based storage facility company, which sponsored him. His two pairs of shoes were Italian brand Vittoria's Stelvio Carbon Sole Road Shoes.
So, when he returned home on 1 April, what was the reception like? "There were hordes of people and my family had prepared wazwan (a celebratory multi-course meal)," says Teli, adding that tabakh-maaz (deep-fried mutton ribs) are his favourite. He says his three elder sisters—two of them married—are his biggest fans, while his younger brother is into football—he's the goalkeeper for the state football academy's under-13 team. Teli himself is a cricket and football fan, M.S. Dhoni and Cristiano Ronaldo, respectively, being his favourite players. In cycling, he follows Elia Viviani (Italy) and Lt Col. Bharat Pannu (India).
Teli says he was advised two months of rest as his knees were swollen. He's recently started light upper body exercises and says will get back to training in a month or so. It's Ramzan and I ask him if he's fasting. Teli says he did fast for the first two days, but gave up because of the physical exhaustion and toll the eight days of cycling had taken on his body.
What does he plan to do next? Teli says once he recovers, he will start training for the national championships later this year. He also wants to introduce the sport to children in the backward and rural areas of Kashmir who do not have the opportunity or access to any facilities. In this context, he talks about his own experience, saying when he started professionally in 2014, there were financial issues at home, sponsorships were difficult to get, but he did not give up. "I realised I had to create opportunities for myself," says Teli, adding that if you put your heart and mind to it, you can achieve your goal.