I finished university at Edinburgh in 1994 and joined the Sri Chinmoy centre almost at the same time. My original plan had been to study teaching English in Cairo but I soon realized I wanted to stay close to the centre and become much more involved in its activities. After a string of temporary jobs, including pushing a tea trolley round the Scottish Office, I was offered the chance to work in the Edinburgh Run and Become while Dhavala was in London, doing the lighting for one of Dipika's plays.
The first thing I noticed, to my surprise, was that the customers were such a nice bunch of people. Now, of course, I understand that because running relieves stress, gives you a regular endorphin high and a unique sense of achievement and well being, it is a generally accepted truth that runners are "a nice bunch of people". I began to wish I could work there permanently. In April 1995 I was asked to come to London and work on advertising Sri Chinmoy's concert which was to take place in May. I also got the opportunity to work in the London Run and Become a few times. I enjoyed it so much and was not at all looking forward to going back to Scotland and finding an ordinary job. Sri Chinmoy must have sensed my reluctance. While Ongkar was driving him back to the hotel after the concert, he suggested that I might like to move to London permanently.
That was 1995 and I've been working there ever since. The Smith family are fantastic people to work with. Shankara at the helm, making sure everything's ship-shape. Dipika by her side, sensible and responsible when necessity demands, incomparably and uniquely silly at all other times, Vinodini with her caring heart, solving all the problems of staff and customers alike and Ongkar, the ever energetic and ever cheerful. The morning "How are you, Ongkar?" is invariably answered with "I'm fantastic! In fact I'm so fantastic I'm going to sing you a song about it: I'm happy as can be..."
It is of course the customers that make Run and Become such a great place to work. Cabinet ministers, dustmen, pop singers, taxi drivers, mums, film stars, executives, authors, celebrity chefs, students, explorers, philosophers, tennis players and so many others all from the broad spectrum of our customer base. Even though I've heard it all so many times its still quite exciting to hear "I'm doing my first marathon" or "I've been dragged into doing this 10K" or even "I've just stopped smoking and I want to get fit". For many people Run and Become is the first port of call on their running journey. Sometimes when I'm out running I'll see someone running in shoes or clothing that I've sold them which always gives me a small tingle of satisfaction.
Beginner runners often marvel when I tell them I've done 5 marathons (I never tell them my times). I always love to hear customers tales of weird and wonderful races they've done such as the Tough Guy which incorporates an army assault course and a stretch which is run through a river and races in exotic places such as the Sahara Desert, the Himalayas, the North Pole, Reading (some parts of Reading are quite exotic). We have runners who run in spite of blindness, deafness, cerebral palsy, severe burns injuries, only having one leg or arm, customers who have lost astonishing amounts of weight through running, customers who have raised thousands of pounds for charity: all in all they're an inspiring bunch. Nowadays people often greet me with "You've been here a long time, haven't you?" All I can say is I hope I stay here a lot longer.
Run and Become, London