Lance Armstrong returns to TV on Sunday night as an ESPN documentary chronicles the pro cyclist’s fall from highly praised 7-time Tour de France winner to disgraced blood doper.
Don’t know if I’ll watch this, as everything about the Texan’s career is a disappointment. I was thrilled by his cancer recovery and exciting rise to the pinnacle of the sport. But when it was revealed that he cheated and attacked others to cover up his crimes, I lost my respect for him and my interest in pro cycling in general.
A person who does deserves our respect, however, is 15-year-old Jyoti Kumari. She is credited with pedaling some 1,200 kilometers (745 miles) to bring her injured father home from New Delhi during India’s coronavirus outbreak.
Jyoti has been hailed as “lionhearted” by the India media and was offered a tryout with the Cycling Federation of India, an offer she has put off so she can finish her education.
Her story is also seen as an example of the desperate measures taken by migrant laborers who are fleeing the cities for family support in their home villages because of the government’s inability to manage the crisis. Millions are heading home, mostly by foot, in a migration that’s leaving death and despair along the way.
Jyoti’s father was a rickshaw driver in New Delhi who couldn’t work because of an injury. She was caring for him, but decided they had to return to their family home after the coronavirus lockdown and all prospects of wages vanished. Acting on her idea, they bought a used bicycle for $20 and set off on May 8. Jyoti pedaled while her father sat on the rear carrier.
Jyoti described the journey to The Wire, an Indian media outlet: “I would ride the bike for more than 100 km every day. We would stop at a petrol pump, spend the night there and resume our journey the next morning. At all the petrol pumps where we stopped, people offered us food and drink. They treated us very well.”
Except for a ride from a truck driver, this is how they made it home. Sometimes, other migrants returning home on foot or bicycle would jeer the father, but Jyoti told her father not to be upset because they didn’t know about his injury.
Successfully arriving home on May 16, the pair’s story began to circulate in the media. According to the New York Times, that’s when she was contacted by Onkar Singh, chairman of the Cycling Federation on India. He offered her a tryout with the cycling team, which competes internationally.
They planned to bring her back to New Delhi by train for cycling tests. Singh admitted to the New York Times that the story may have become “stretched” in the retelling, but considering what she’d been through, Singh said she has guts and expected her to do well.
This weekend, the Indian Express reports that Jyoti has decided instead to take an offer from a political party to sponsor her education. Previously she had dropped out of school to help her father in New Delhi and take on domestic work to help pay the bills.
Getting an education is a good decision, which her family supports. Her father says they’ll still send her to New Delhi for the cycling tryout after the lockdown is lifted. I like would like to see her win a spot on the women’s cycling team. And I bet she can do it without doping.