Venu’s Indomitable Enthusiasm By Vasudha


            The annual ritual usually began around March. Venu would call me and in his clipped, exuberant voice, begin the familiar dialogue:

Vasudha, it’s Venu.

Hi Venu.
What is the date of the Swim/Run this year?
It’s going to be July 13.
Will you send me an entry?
Sure, no problem.
Thanks. Goodbye. <Click>

            Venu had many admirable spiritual qualities: focus, devotion, simplicity, discipline, and commitment to self-transcendence. But by far, my favorite characteristic was his quirky, child-like, irrepressible enthusiasm. If Venu loved something, he really loved it!

And he loved the Swim/Run. For 30 years now, the San Diego chapter of the Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team has organized a Swim/Run event in La Jolla. For most of those 30 years, Venu was a participant (I believe he completed the race 26 times). Speaking as the Race Director, I can say with certainty that Venu was by far the most enthusiastic supporter the race has ever seen.

            Over the years, he frequently advised me—sometimes verbally, sometimes via a handwritten note that would arrive in the mail a few weeks after the race: “You can’t ever stop holding this race.” “It’s so important.” “It’s so special.” “This race always needs to take place.”

            I too love this race, but as the organizer, it’s all too easy to get stressed by the logistics, administration, financial aspects, etc. Venu helped to keep me focused on the sense of joy and accomplishment felt by both athletes and volunteers. He motivated me to continue. For a long time, Venu was a very strong athlete. In later years (as with so many of us), he slowed down considerably. But unlike so many aging athletes, Venu never lost his zeal.

            The second conversation would take place every year in early July, a week or so before the event:

Vasudha, it’s Venu.

Hi Venu.
What’s the water temperature in La Jolla?
It’s high 60’s—pretty much the same as it is every July. Might top 70 if we’re lucky.
OK, thanks. I’m just hoping it’s not going to be too cold.
It won’t be too cold, Venu.
I’m really not in shape this year. I haven’t done enough training.
Don’t worry about it, Venu. You always finish.
OK, thanks. <Click>

            In 2013, knowing how ill Venu was, I didn’t expect to hear from him. But then, surprisingly, his name appeared on my caller ID sometime around March:

Vasudha, it’s Venu.

I want to do the race. Will you let me do the race? If you say no, I’ll accept it, but I’ve been training and I really want to do the race.
Well, Venu, you can do the race if you’re feeling up to it.
Will you send me an entry?
Sure, I’ll send you an entry.
Thank you. <Click>

            Over the last few months of his life, Venu became absolutely committed to completing the race, which consists of a 1-mile ocean swim and 10K run on sand. These distances are not easy under the best of conditions; they’re for healthy athletes in good shape. But to think that someone dealing with the debilitating health issues that Venu faced might attempt them? No, I knew it wasn’t possible. But I also knew it would be wrong for me to take away his inspiration by telling him not to enter.

            I processed his entry and sent him his race number. As Venu’s health became increasingly delicate, I was torn as to how to handle the situation. A number of sensible people contacted me—with the best of intentions and with true concern for Venu—to say that I had to forbid him from doing the race, that it would be best if I just told him to stay home and rest. Better that, they told me, than to risk a catastrophe on race day. They weren’t wrong.

            According to Garima (a physician and the leader of the San Francisco Sri Chinmoy Centre), the prospect of the Swim/Run was keeping Venu going. He bought a new wetsuit, he swam laps in the frigid waters of Aquatic Park, he purchased a plane ticket to San Diego for July weekend—non-refundable fare.

            I meditated—inwardly asking for guidance on how to handle the situation—and the response was very clear. Guru had the situation under control. There was no need for me to crush Venu’s spirit by telling him not to plan on the race. Something would happen and it would happen in a way that kept Venu’s hope and enthusiasm intact. In considering the possibilities, I figured that on the morning of the race, he’d just get a strong feeling not to enter the water and would obey this inner command. Or he’d swim 100 meters and realize that that was as far as he could go, so he’d cheerfully turn back to shore. Or he’d oversleep and miss the early start.

            I also knew there was another possibility: that Venu wouldn’t be strong enough to get on the plane and travel to San Diego. Three days before the 2013 Self-Transcendence La Jolla Swim & Run, Venu passed away peacefully at his home in San Francisco. As is evident from all the other stories in this book, he is fondly remembered and sorely missed. I hope that in accordance with his wishes, the Swim/Run will “always take place.” But I doubt that any participant will ever be as loyal, enthusiastic, and determined to complete the race as Venu was—unless, of course, he comes back. 

(Photo top: Venu swimming during a triathlon)