Posted: 12:00 a.m. Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014

MU student running long road to Olympics

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MU student running long road to Olympics photo
Miami University student Karan Sachdeva, left, stands beside his coach, Bob Schul, a former Olympic gold medalist. SUBMITTED

By Josh North

Contributing Writer

OXFORD — After moving from one country to another halfway through his lifetime, Karan Sachdeva has found himself right at home on the tracks and roads in Oxford, Ohio. Whether it be the Talawanda High School track, the indoor track at the recreation center, or the paved trail around Cook field, Sachdeva is running laps even during the quietest and coldest of mornings.

He is not just running for the sake of being in shape. He is running for the ultimate goal of just about any athlete in search of perfecting his or her craft: The Olympics. Sachdeva’s goal is to run the 5,000 meter race at the 2016 Olympics in Rio.

“In the beginning, I never thought too much about running and how it would take me this far,” Sachdeva said. “It just all sort of happened.”

Sachdeva, 22, was born in India and moved to the United States with his family in 2000. After struggling to find his way in a foreign land, Sachdeva found out that he was one of the top runners in his class at Bellbrook Middle School. His class was running a pacer test and Sachdeva, much to his surprise, was the last one still going.

He barely even knew that running was a big sport in America.

“In India, cricket is king and running isn’t talked about much,” Sachdeva said. “But I decided to give it a try once it seemed like I was pretty good at it.”

In high school, Sachdeva made it to the regional cross country meet his senior year and ran varsity for cross country and track. Despite his success, however, he wasn’t quite good enough to be recruited by many universities. But Sachdeva is used to the underdog feeling. His right leg is shorter than his left.

“I still had to keep running,” Sachdeva said. “I found a passion in it and it was a great outlet for me, and I wasn’t going to let the recruiters get to me.”

After deciding to attend Miami University for academic reasons, Sachdeva worked even harder to walk-on to the Red and White’s track team. Unfortunately for Miami, he wasn’t allowed to join the team because his times just didn’t match what the team was looking for at the time.

Still, Sachdeva kept running hoping to try out again next year. Upping his mileage and working even harder to reach new goals, he seemed poised to return even stronger and faster than he was before.

Then, tragedy struck in the middle of his sophomore year.

“My grandfather’s death really shook me, and I couldn’t go see him because he was in India and I was in school,” Sachdeva said. “I was starting to lose focus and began to get tired of working so hard.”

Sachdeva then realized that he had to keep running, for his grandfather and for himself. This sport was his “way out” and how he got his mind off of the trials and tribulations of everyday life. He was able to use religion to help him deal with his situation and keep him focus.

“Running is 80 percent mental, and religion is what keeps me grounded, humble and driven,” Sachdeva said.

After unforeseen circumstances prevented Sachdeva from going to Miami’s track tryouts his sophomore year, he decided for stop trying to make the team. But Miami University would still find a way to help him find a new identity.

Former Olympic gold medalist in the 1964 5,000 meters and Miami alum Bob Schul visited campus in November, 2012. After he spoke to a number of students and runners, Sachdeva spoke to Schul personally and saw some parallels to himself when he was a young and aspiring runner like Sachdeva.

“His work ethic stands out,” Schul said of Sachdeva. “He does everything that an Olympic has to do to make it.”

Shortly after meeting, Schul would become Sachdeva’s first coach since high school. This time, rather than looking to make it to the state meet, Schul had Sachdeva look into competing to make it to the Olympics for his home country India.

But to do this, Sachdeva couldn’t just work hard. He had to work harder than he ever had before, and change everything about his lifestyle.

“I don’t go out, I go to bed early and I study for school,” Sachdeva, a mechanical engineering major, said. “It’s not ideal, but you have to do it to get what you want.”

Sachdeva bumped up his mileage to 100 miles per week, and a number of workouts forced him to also work on his speed, something Schul sees as a very important aspect in a distance runner.

“Coach says that distance runners have endurance but lack speed, and that great runners must have both,” Sachdeva said.

With the hectic schedule and training, Sachdeva has to find balance to keep himself healthy and functioning. He does this by keeping a consistent vegetarian diet of pasta, salad, beans and Indian food. He also does yoga and takes ice baths to keep his muscles fresh to avoid injury. Sachdeva describes staying healthy for four years as “the hardest thing to do” for any athlete training for the Olympics.

Along with running, Sachdeva founded the charity “Barefoot Gems,” where he and others donate 30 pairs of shoes per month to those in need. He hopes to keep the charity going and expand it in the future, he said.

Family and friends keep close tabs of Sachdeva through social networking, but his success in meets has allowed him to gain recognition from many. Sachin Tendulkar, a famous cricket player from India, recently sent him a letter congratulating and urging Sachdeva to keep pursuing his dream. Sachdeva’s family also receives fan mail from young children calling him “a great inspiration.”

“There are a lot of people in India that have my back and want to see me doing big things,” Sachdeva said. “India has never won a medal in any running event in the Olympics, and I hope to be the game-changer.”

Schul believes that Sachdeva is ready to make the jump and be the best runner for India right now, but there is still a lot of work to be done.

“I have trained many fine runners, and Karan fits in with these athletes,” Schul said. “He just needs to gain the confidence to compete with the best in the world.”

Until that day comes, the runner who couldn’t make the Miami University track team two years ago will continue to work in all kinds of weather and on every terrain possible. While he believes that he is blessed to have a coach like Bob Schul and lucky to have come as far as he has, the humble Sachdeva knows how much “behind-the-scenes” work he has put in, and how much that is going to help him in the future.

“I’m stubborn,” Sachdeva said. “People will always doubt me, but that’s fine. I’m ready to prove them wrong and chase my dreams.”

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