Whatever Happened To … The Teen Hailed For Cycling 700 Miles With Her Injured Dad?

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Jyoti Kumari, 15, pedaled more than 700 miles with her father seated behind her on a $20 bicycle to bring him from New Delhi, where he’d been injured, to the family’s village.

Jyoti Kumari


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Jyoti Kumari

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In this screengrab from video posted by BBC News Hindi,15-year-old Jyoti Kumari’s rides with her father during their 700 mile-long journey to their family’s village of Sirhulli in eastern India.

BBC News Hindi


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Kumari’s father died of a cardiac arrest in May — one year after she saved his life by biking for 7 consecutive days under lockdown on a relatively empty stomach.

«To see him die suddenly like this after I brought him safely from such a great distance last year, I feel very sad,» says Kumari.

Her mother is also unwell and runs out of breath with minor physical activity. But the family doesn’t have money to take her to a bigger town for check-up, says Kumari’s brother-in-law Mukesh Kumar Paswan who used to work as an X-ray technician but lost his job last year because of the pandemic and has been unable to find work since. He now feels responsible for taking care of the family of eight, which includes Kumari’s younger siblings and his newborn baby.

«We don’t know what to do now,» he says.

The cash rewards that Kumari received last year from political parties and companies initially helped the family weather the pandemic. Kumari says they used the money to build a bigger house with a toilet and a water connection. Some of the money was also used to pay off debt, she says.

In January, Kumari was awarded the National Children’s Award by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a civilian honor recognizing bravery, which includes a medal and a financial prize of 1 lakh rupees or about $1,300. «She might seem like any other girl of her age, but the courage and strength that she displayed … cannot be described in words,» the award organizers said.

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Jyoti Kumari (center, foreground, in mask) and family members stand in front of their house in Siruhulli, a village in eastern India.

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Stringer/AFP via Getty Images

Jyoti Kumari (center, foreground, in mask) and family members stand in front of their house in Siruhulli, a village in eastern India.

Stringer/AFP via Getty Images

«But the funds are now drying up,» says Paswan.»No one in the family has a job so we are facing a lot of financial issues.»

And not all the promises of help were fulfilled, says Kumari.

«We had been promised land and jobs,» she says. «Those were only words.»

Indian politician Priyanka Gandhi, from the opposition Congress party, has said she will take care of Kumari’s education expenses and spoke to her after her father’s death.

«If Jyoti can complete her education and do something worthwhile for her career, that’s all we want for her future,» says Paswan.

But her future is uncertain. Kumari’s school is closed because of the pandemic and she goes to one of her teacher’s house for private lessons. She has an offer from the Cycling Federation of India to try out for the national team and potentially represent India at the Olympics but she’s keen to finish her studies first. She says she’s weak in academics because she had missed school for months when she left her village to be with her father and nurse him back to health after his road accident.

Kumari says memories of her father, especially moments from their grueling journey, keep coming back to her. She says she also misses how he would try to discipline her and tell her not to go wandering around the village when she was younger. When she won the Prime Minister’s award, Kumari says he was proud and boasted about her to everyone he met.

«He would say: ‘Look at what a great thing my daughter did, look at the awards she’s getting’,» says Kumari. «I miss him a lot.»

The only solace is that he was able to bask in his daughter’s glory, if only for a short time.

  • hero
  • bicycling
  • India

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