The GTA Sikh community is hosting its first-ever marathon May 19 and in keeping with its theme of kids helping kids, many children will be among the runners.
The event will also feature one of the world's oldest marathoners, 102-year-old Fauja Singh from the U.K.'s Sikhs in the City running club.
Sponsored by the Guru Gobind Singh Children's Foundation, the aim of the race is to raise money for children in the developing world and promote "a healthy and active lifestyle," according to one of the organizers Jeev Singh, 23, a business consultant with Deloitte in Toronto.
Simmar Uppal, 9, a Grade 3 student at the Coppard Glen Public School in Markham, will be among the runners setting out from the Dixie Road Gurdwara in Mississauga. Simmar says she will be running 12 kilometres of the race.
"Simmar is an exception. Unlike other kids, who will be running 5 km, Simmar will be running 12 and that's pretty amazing," says Sarpreet Khera, one of the foundation's board members. "We are very proud that someone of Simmar's age … wants to impact change."
Fauja Singh will join the runners, in a symbolic way. He was running full marathons, dozens of them, until last year.
"Although the running parts are [now] not as long any more, I still run a little, but much more of my daily run has been replaced by a brisk walk," he said in a telephone interview. He said he recently participated in the London Marathon, and in his own way commemorated the victims of the Boston Marathon terror attacks. "The spirit of sports cannot be killed by a few madmen. So, I ran my 29th consecutive London Marathon carrying a flag that read 'Sikhs Love Boston.' " and to show sympathy for the victims and to stand firm against the perpetrators."
During their various runs and other activities, GGSCF has raised over $800,000 for helping children with needs, said Ms. Khera, 25, one of the five-member board of the organization. In a cross-country run in 2009, the group raised $145,000 and donated it to children's hospitals.
"Our major achievement is getting youth involved. We keep them engaged in different activities around the GTA. We bring children on board to get involved to do positive things in the community, the community in which they live, thereby taking them away from other things like loitering, joining gangs, etc.," said Jeev Singh.
The group's monthly meetings are open to all young people irrespective of background, faith or race.
At their "speech of the month," GGSCF has invited Hindus, Muslims and persons of other faiths to share their religious thoughts. Faisal Tahiri of the Islamic faith spoke recent at the monthly meeting, and quoted from the Koran about acceptance of one and all.
The group also helps feed close to 100 hungry people each month, getting food from one of the Sikh temples and going to shelters around the GTA. "Some shelters may not allow food from outside and there we volunteer our time," said Jeeva Singh.
Mentors at the GGSCF tell the kids that "inspiration can come from anywhere – other athletes, political leaders, entertainers, brothers, sisters, parents, mentors," explained Mr. Singh. "Please find inspiration from someone whom you look up to and then pursue your passion with strong will and dedication. We look up to Mr. Fauja Singh, who has been pursuing his passion of running with sheer dedication and such a strong will. To him it doesn't matter that he's 102 years old. He's able to jump his age and other hurdles, which would be impossible for many other people."
From the Dixie Road temple, runners will head east winding their way to a Scarborough temple, Gursikh Sabha Gurdwara, the finish line for the marathon.
"We are asking people to come out for the marathon. We want to motivate not only young persons from our Sikh community but children from other communities as well. They could walk or run," said Jeev Singh.