Pushpa Chandra: Running on Ice - A Trail Runner's Perspective on the North Pole and Antarctica, part of the 16th annual Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival (Feb. 8-17) Trail Running Show, Sunday, Feb. 10 at 7: 30 p.m. at North Vancouver's Centennial Theatre. Tickets: $21/$19. Full festival schedule and info: vimff.org.
OVER the course of her 50th year, Vancouver naturopathic doctor Pushpa Chandra battled one extreme to the other in an effort to run extensive distances on the world's toughest terrain.
Tackling events on seven continents, the experienced ultramarathon runner set world and national records as well as winning times; however, what she's most proud of is the inner strength she's gained through her years of dedication to the sport, which has had a tremendous positive impact on her life as a whole.
Chandra, now 55, will share her unique perspective on running at the 16th annual Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival when she takes the Centennial Theatre stage Sunday, Feb. 10 at 7: 30 p.m. at its Trail Running Show. She will discuss two of her adventures, calling her presentation Running on Ice - A Trail Runner's Perspective on the North Pole and Antarctica.
Chandra believes her talk will appeal to everyone, not just runners.
"It's not about how I fell down, it's about how I got up and got going again," she says.
"It's inspiring to hear someone go through the adversities and still pick up and keep running and . . . within that misfortune there was still a fortune. That's how I feel, that's how I feel within myself. I am so grateful for what I have and I appreciate everything that I have, and I don't take it for granted. The more I'm grateful, the more comes to me," she says.
Chandra credits her ability to withstand the elements to her upbringing. Born in Fiji to a Nepalese sherpa father and a mother of Indian descent, she was one of 11 children.
"Our lifestyle was like a camping lifestyle, that's how we lived," she says. Chandra, a former intensive care nurse at B.C. Children's Hospital now practises family medicine, while also taking strong focus on sports injuries, at her Kitsilano-based naturopathy clinic.
Her family relied on the land and sea to survive, growing and gathering their own food. She recalls using kerosene lamps until she was 11, helping her sister draw water from a well, running to school on a gravel road and living in a home built of coconut leaves.
"When you grow up in a developing country, you basically just go inside the house to sleep. You mostly spend all your time outside," she says.
While Chandra left her home country at age 16 and has been living in Canada for almost 40 years, she remains strongly connected to her roots, so much so that she was inspired to visit her father's homeland in her 50th year, planning to commemorate the milestone on Mount Everest.
"That's where it began," she says, of what led to her decision to subsequently visit all of the world's other continents in the same year.
"I started on one continent but it empowered me to move on to other continents," she says. "It was really supposed to be my ancestral land on Mount Everest, which I had never been to in the past. When I got there I got really sick and it really allowed me to go to the next level where I wanted to be in a more inhospitable condition and that's how I envisioned Antarctica and went on and on from there from then on. It really was the seed."
In addition to the Mount Everest Marathon, other events she completed that year included the Open African Safari, the Antarctica 100 km and the North Pole Marathon.
Chandra was the first Canadian to run at both the Antarctica and North Pole events and was the second woman in the world to do the Antarctica 100 km and is a world record holder.
"It was quite a challenge to take up because when we got there, half of the people backed out from the 100 km just because the conditions looked so hostile," she says.
"I was hit by these winds and ice that dropped on me and I kept running. I had no idea what time I'd finished. You can't even look at your watch because you're so sealed up with layers and layers of clothes," she adds.
Chandra was the overall female winner of the 2009 North Pole Marathon.
"It was a great win, but for me, it really felt like it was beyond just winning the race, it was the strength that (I) acquired during all my running that really was (worth) more than winning the race. That's what I really valued is the strength of who I am, which became part of my DNA by going through all these adversities," she says.
Chandra ran in the bone-chilling cold in both environments, temperatures ranging between -37 C and -47 C in the North Pole and around -20 C in Antarctica.
The North Pole course saw her traverse shifting sea ice, a thin barrier between herself and the deep ocean below.
"One time, I did go down a little bit. I felt like my feet were getting dragged into frigid waters and I don't know how, but I pulled myself up and kept on running," she says.
Chandra also plans to share her philosophy regarding running, as for her, it's more of a mental activity than physical.
When she runs, she finds she enters a meditative, "zen-like state."
"It really stimulates a deeper awareness in me. It really keeps me focused. When you are in that state, I feel that you're able to think so much more clearly and respond so much more clearly to any adversities," she says.
Chandra feels this is something she's earned through her efforts over the course of her lifetime, her dedication to the sport having had a powerful effect on her.
"It's that focused, mindfulness where your body is so connected to your mind," she says. "I feel like when I'm running, my body is just a slave to my mind. It's just carrying my body. My mind is the master, my body just listens to it. Regardless of all the adversities that I went through, it felt like I could just figure things out because I was in this body-mind unison. That to me is really the gift of running."
Chandra also believes running, which she fell in love with at a young age, has helped shape the course of her life.
"It's taken me to levels that I probably would have never achieved," she says. "I would have never gone back to school after being a nurse for 20 years to become a physician and then continue to do what I'm doing."
Chandra's next challenge will see her tackle a 250-km, five-day, self-supporting stage race in the Gobi Desert in June. She's working through a scheduled training program, currently clocking up to 16-20 hours of cross-training and running per week.
Joining her Sunday night at Centennial Theatre are fellow presenters: Eagle Walz, who envisioned the 180-kilometre long Sunshine Coast Trail more than 20 years ago; Dave Cressman, an avid snowshoe runner; David Crerar, Ken Lagg and Ean Jackson, who will share slides and stories related to the Bagger Challenge, a peak-bagging contest for the Vancouver North Shore mountains; and, North Vancouver ultramarathon r8-km unner Gary Robbins who went to Chamonix, France to compete in a 16run around Mont Blanc. His talk is dubbed Fueled by Cheese. The evening's film screenings include The Trip (USA, 2012), The Beauty Of The Irrational (South Africa, 2012) and XSNRG (Canada, 2004).
The VIMFF opens tonight at 7: 30 p.m. with an event also at Centennial Theatre.
The evening's program includes films (American film The Kyrgyzstan Project and United Kingdom's Autana), the VIMFF 2013 Mountain Photo Competition Awards and a presentation entitled Tim Emmett: Fast Times At Tim'mount High. The VIMFF will continue until Feb. 17 with a variety of events offered daily at Centennial, Pacific Cinematheque and Rio Theatres.
For more information, visit vimff.org.