Climbing the CN Tower

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CN (Canadian National) Tower is a 553.33 m-high (1,815.4 ft) concrete communications and observation tower in Toronto,  Canada.   It was completed in 1976, becoming the world’s tallest free-standing structure and world’s tallest tower at the time. It held both records for 34 years until the completion of Burj Khalifa and Canton Tower in 2010. It remains the tallest free-standing structure in the Western Hemisphere, a signature icon of Toronto’s skyline, and a symbol of Canada, attracting more than two million international visitors annually.  Its name “CN” originally referred to Canadian National, the railway company that built the tower, following the railway’s decision to divest non-core freight railway assets.

The idea of the CN Tower originated in 1968 when the Canadian National Railway wanted to build a large TV and radio communication platform to serve the Toronto area.  As Toronto grew rapidly during the late 1960s and early 1970s, multiple skyscrapers were constructed in the downtown core and the reflective nature of the new buildings compromised the quality of broadcast signals necessitating new, higher antennas that were at least 300 m tall.  The CN Tower opened on 01 October 1976, but soon microwave communication and terrestrial TV/Radio transmissions were overtaken by satellite communication.  Now the tower is more of a tourist attraction and may be raking in more money than what it was intended for.

The 1,776 steps of the CN Tower’s main stairwell are climbed by over 20,000 people annually during two fundraising stair climbs for the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the United Way raising well over $3 million for charity every year.  A trek up one of the tallest buildings in the world, the CN Tower Climb is one of the steepest physical challenges in the city.  Climbers face 144 flights of stairs with 1,776 steps, but the knowledge that all that hard work benefits a worthy cause like the United Way or the WWF, and with a bit of help from rest spots along the way, it’s sure to be a feat for over 10,000 climbers, who will look back on with pride.

Our family decided to undertake the feat on 21 April 2012, the day of the WWF climb.  We all practiced for a week by climbing up and down the two flights of stairs at home and going for a jog in the evening.  The children were enthusiastic about the feat, but were a bit scared about their parents.  Appa had left the army eight years before and added a few inches around his waist and Marina, a school days Kerala State 400m winner, had been out of physical activity for a long time.  So each one decided to take along each of the parents and proving Sigmund Freud correct, our daughter Nidhi decided to accompany Appa and our Son Nikhil decided to go along with Marina.  All set we took off early morning and reached the CN Tower.  We had to shed all our jackets at the registration counter and no loose objects like coins, keys, cell phones, water bottles etc are not allowed because in case anything falls off, it is sure to hurt someone climbing much below you.

There were thousands of people either climbing the tower or queuing up at the registration counters.  We commenced our climb after a frisking for any loose objects.  Marina was bit slow to begin with and Nikhil kept company.  Nidhi and self started well with Nidhi leading the way, until about 100 flights of stairs and then realised that Appa still had it in him and I reached the top, first amongst us in about 25 minutes.  Our daughter followed in a few minutes later.

The organisation enroute is worth mentioning.  There is a para-medic every four flights of stairs, to take care of any medical emergencies.  There were posters made by school children, bringing out the importance of wild life conservation and also about the climb, placed at the landing area after each flight.  As we reached on top, a bottle of water was handed over to each participant.  There were climbers of all ages – from kids to grandparents, disabled, amputees, veterans, etc.

After about 20 minutes we saw Nikhil pushing Marina out of the last step.  I asked him as to how they took 45 minutes to climb up to which he Marina said that Nikhil was all the way pushing and prodding her, and waiting with her when she took breaks and she would not have completed this climb without his assistance.  I felt really happy about his deed to take care of his mother and I asked him as to why he did not leave her and climb in good time as she would have somehow managed her way up.  To this Nikhil said that this may be the only time when Marina would climb the tower and he can do it in a shorter time later.  It was real moment of pride for all of us and I said to him that he did a great job in taking care of his mother and many teens would not have done so and I see a bright star in the sky in you.

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On reaching home in the afternoon, an Indian family friend called us to enquire about the climb.  He asked as to how much we paid and I said that we had to pay $100 per climber as charity to WWF.  To this he said that going up the elevator costs only $25 and you pay $100 to strain yourself and climb all the way.  I did not say a word in response.

In the evening another Indian friend wanted to know as to why I took the entire family for such an ordeal (in case you are mad, you could have done it yourself), and I said that it was aimed to boost self confidence and leadership qualities in children and also to encourage charity for a cause like WWF.  To this he said that he did not understand the connection between climbing 1776 steps and leadership qualities to which I did not respond.

Bicycle – Oh My Old Companion

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Our family friend took part in this year’s Tour De Mississauga, a 30/60/100 KM cycling event. This year it attracted over 1600 cyclists of all abilities from all around the Toronto Area. Cyclists of every age or ability, on every kind of bike (including electric assist), participated. The aim of the event is to familiarise cyclist with the various cycling trails and lanes available in the city, to develop a spirit of adventure and also to encourage cycling, both as a sport and as a physical activity. The event was well organized and truly lived up to its motto “THIS IS NOT A RACE – THE JOURNEY IS THE DESTINATION!”

As is the case with all such community activities in Toronto area like marathons, climbing the CN Tower, parades, etc, in this activity too there were hardly any participation by immigrants from the Indian subcontinent. When will we learn to amalgamate with the Canadian society?

Participating in such events will not only develop community spirit in the participants, but will also raise money for some charity. It develops leadership qualities in children and encourages the spirit of adventure in them. Preparing for the event and participation will keep everyone healthy and improve one’s confidence level. Completion of the event will give you immense pride and sense of achievement. It will prove to you that you are physically healthy to undertake such difficult ordeals.

The local governments are doing their best to encourage cycling as a daily activity. Most of the roads in the Toronto Area have either a bicycle lane or off-road cycling paths. Bicycle Lanes are typically 1.5 m to 2 m wide, and designate a space on the roadway exclusively for the use of cyclists. Motor vehicles are not allowed to drive, park or stand in the bike lane. Off-Road Paths include trails through parks and along the arterial roads. Cyclists, skaters and pedestrians often share these paths.

On arrival in Canada, I saw a something like a crash-guard which we have on the front bumpers of the cars back home on the buses in the Toronto Area. On inquiry I learnt that it is a cycle carrier to carry two cycles. Many commuters feel that cycling or taking the bus just doesn’t compete with the convenience of a car. But in Toronto Area, “biking and bussing” is easy. You can cycle to a bus stop or station and then bring your bike on the bus. By biking and bussing you’ll not only improve your health, but also help reduce gas emissions.

In Toronto, bicycles are permitted on buses, trains and subways at all times except weekdays during peak hours. Bicycle transportation is a growing activity in Toronto and throughout North America, due in part because of the many benefits cycling offers.

Transportation by bicycle is the most energy efficient mode of transportation, and generates no pollution, except in its manufacture. Cycling is often the fastest mode of transportation from door to door for distances up to 10 km in urban cores. Ten bicycles can be parked in the space required for a single automobile. Short distance motor-vehicle trips are the least fuel-efficient and generate the most pollution per kilometre. These trips have the greatest potential for being replaced by cycling and walking.

BIXI – Bike Share Toronto – is designed to be a convenient way to get around the city, and is ideal for short rides and one-way trips.  The members get access to 2,000 bikes across the city. They can pick up a bike at one of 200 stations, and drop it off at any other station when done.  One need to become an Annual Member or buy a Day Pass to be able to use Bixi. An Annual Member can insert a bike key into a dock to unlock a bike. Day Pass holders will get a ride code, which when typed into the keypad on the dock, unlocks a bike.  The first 30 minutes of each ride are included in the membership or pass price. One can keep a bike out for longer, but additional usage fees will apply.

Reducing auto trips will mitigate ozone depletion, the greenhouse effect, ground level air pollution, photochemical smog, acid rain and noise pollution. Cycling contributes to personal health by enhancing fitness and providing an enjoyable, convenient and affordable means of exercise and recreation. Increased physical activity, such as walking and cycling, can reduce the risk of coronary heart disease and the cost of medical care, decrease workplace absenteeism, and maintain the independence of older adults. Cycling benefits one’s health regardless of the age at which one takes up cycling.

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During our training at the National Defence Academy, Pune, cycling was the only mode of transportation for the cadets, else one had to run. The Academy campus is spread over 7000 acres and to reach various training event sites, a cadet had to cycle an average of 20 km per day. While cycling, one had to maintain proper squad discipline and pay proper respects to passing senior officers. Any minor infringement ensured that the cycle was on you rather than you being on the cycle. Every semester begun with the cycle issue and always ended with the cycle return, after which was a month’s vacation. We used to have a weekly cycle maintenance parade to wash and repair the cycles. Thus even today, the cycle is the most ardent companion of every cadet at the academy, without which life would have been much more difficult.

 

 

The Invictus Games

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The word ‘Invictus’ means ‘unconquered’. It showcases the fighting spirit of the injured military personnel and what these tenacious men and women can achieve, post injury. The Games harness the power of sport to support recovery and rehabilitation.  It has helped to generate a wider understanding and respect for those who serve their country.

The Invictus Games was the brainchild of Prince Harry, a former Apache helicopter pilot who served with the British armed forces in Afghanistan.  He was inspired to launch an event after seeing three young soldiers badly injured in Afghanistan in 2008.  At the time, Harry was being sent home after the news of his presence in Afghanistan as a British army officer was flashed by the media.  This endangered his fellow officers, forcing him to leave, even though he wanted to stay with his soldiers.

While sitting aboard his flight home, Harry saw a coffin of a Danish solider loaded aboard. Also on that flight were three young British soldiers on stretchers in induced comas, wrapped in plastic, with missing limbs and tubes coming out of them.

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On a trip to the Warrior Games in the USA in 2013 he saw how the power of sport could motivate the injured soldier physically, psychologically and socially. He formed the Invictus Foundation and hosted the inaugural Invictus Games at London from 10-14 September 2014 which was attended by over 400 competitors from 13 nations.  Across four days of intense sporting action, they competed in nine sports in five venues.

Thus was born the Invictus Games, the only international adaptive sporting event for wounded and sick soldiers and veterans.

The Games started with a spectacular Opening Ceremony, with an audience of 5,000 gathering on Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park for the special military themed opening event. With a fly past from The Red Arrows, displays by The King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery and the Queen’s Colour Squadron and performances from bands in the Royal Marines, Army and RAF, the Games kicked off with all pomp and ceremony.

Prince Harry on conclusion of the first Invictus Games said “These Games have shone a spotlight on the ‘unconquerable’ character of service men and women and their families and their ‘Invictus’ spirit. These Games have been about seeing guys sprinting for the finish line and then turning round to clap the last man in. They have been about teammates choosing to cross the line together, not wanting to come second, but not wanting the other guys to either. These Games have shown the very best of the human spirit.”

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According to Prince Harry, the 2014 Games were just the beginning of the Invictus story. The competitors showed grit, determination and humour with an absolute refusal to be beaten or be defined by their injuries.  There the Invictus spirit was born.  He was excited to see the American public supporting these inspirational men and women at the 2016 Invictus Games.  Seeing so many men and women competing against each other with huge beaming smiles, made him realise the power of the concept behind Invictus Games.  He is of the opinion that sports can make a huge difference and help the injured soldiers fix their lives and those of others around them.

The Invictus Games 2016 was held at Orlando, USA from 08 to 12 May 2016.  The games featured 500 competitors from 15 nations: Afghanistan, Australia, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, France, Georgia, Germany, Iraq, Italy, Jordan, Netherlands, New Zealand, United Kingdom and the United States of America.  First lady Michelle Obama, Britain’s Prince Harry and Academy Award-winning actor Morgan Freeman delivered stirring speeches during the opening ceremony.

Freeman powerfully orated the Invictus Pledge to the crowd to help conclude the ceremony:
Your service sets an example
Your bravery inspires me
It is my honor now
To support and give you courage
To fight for you as you fought for us
To keep your family close beside
To take the steps you need to take
I am here for you.

President George W Bush is the Honorary Chairman of the Games.  He said “I have dedicated the rest of my life to honoring the service and sacrifice of the men and women with whom I served as Commander-in-Chief.  Those who wear their Nation’s uniform, some of whom have overcome both visible and invisible injuries, deserve our support.  I am proud to serve as honorary Chairman of the Invictus Games Orlando 2016, and to shine a spotlight on the unconquered spirit of these men and women, not just from the American team but from 15 coalition nations.”

The George W Bush Institute conducted an international symposium at Invictus Games Orlando 2016 on May 8, to discuss solutions aimed at helping returning servicemen and women improve outcomes for their transition back to civilian life.

The Invictus Games 2017 would be hosted by Toronto, Canada, from September 26­ to 30.  It coincides with the  celebrations of the 150th anniversary of its Confederation and 100th anniversary of Canada’s defining rolein the Battle of Vimy Ridge in World War I.  It will provide a unique opportunity for Canadians to commemorate and honour its injured soldiers and their families.  Ontario has committed up to $10 million in support of the Invictus Games 2017.   It is expected to feature more than 600 competitors from 16 nations.

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The kickoff for the Invictus Games 2017 was held on 02 May 2016, by way of an exhibition sledge hockey game at Toronto.  Prince Harry joined Prime Minister Trudeau and Toronto Mayor John Tory were in attendance.

Paraplegic rehabilitation Centre (PRC), Kirkee, is a pioneer in introducing sports on wheelchair for the Indian wounded soldiers. The First National Games for disabled were also organised by PRC and were held at the Centre. Inmates of the Centre are undisputed champions in wheelchair sports at National level. At the international level, inmates from PRC have won many medals.

Will India ever hold an Invictus Games?  Will someone sponsor the Games? It is ironic that the sponsor for the Invictus Games 2014 and 2016 was none other than Indian owned Jaguar Range Rover.

Yogapalooza and Lululemon

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Toronto city takes pride in hosting Yogapalooza, a celebration of Yoga, movement, music and meditation. Yoga, dance, martial arts and live music come together for an uplifting community experience. The festival started with Salimah Kassim-Lakha’s vision of bringing people from all walks of life together to share the benefits of the practice.

The first Yogapalooza happened at the Pride Festival in Toronto at Queens Park in 2010. Now Yogapalooza has grown into a multi dimensional festival championed by many. The flagship event takes place at Toronto’s Harbourfront in the third weekend of August. The festival offers free classes for families, those new to yoga, and experienced yogis which all will enjoy.

Many class experiences are on offer over the course of the two-day festival, providing the best opportunity for exploring different levels of Yoga, especially for beginners new to the lifestyle. Different kinds of yoga, including Hatha Yoga, Laughter Yoga and Kundalini Yoga are showcased. Guests can groove to the sounds of the drumming circle, stretch out their stress, and connect to their playful side through yoga, martial arts, dance and music. It includes a kids’ yoga space, wholesome marketplace, community booths, live music and more.

Yogapalooza serves to uplift individuals, families and communities with a mission to inspire connections though consciousness and open hearts. The festival to celebrate the age old Indian traditional Yoga is taking place in Toronto when remote Indian towns (including our town Kottayam) are celebrating opening of a new McDonalds or Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) outlet with mile long queues of the young generation.

Here is a great success story of Lululemon Athletica, a Vancouver (Canada) based company catering for Yoga apparels and equipment. The company generates over a billion dollars in revenue and has over 200 outlets in Canada, US, Australia and New Zealand.After 20 years in the surf, skate and snowboard business, Chip Wilson took the first commercial yoga class offered in Vancouver and found the result exhilarating. The post-yoga feeling was so close to surfing and snowboarding that it seemed obvious to him that yoga was an ideology whose time had come again.

Even though Yoga does not require the Yogis to wear any special clothing or shoes, most Yogis in North America were wearing cotton clothing which seemed completely inappropriate to Chip Wilson, whose passion lay in technical athletic fabrics. From this, a design studio was born that became a yoga studio at night to pay the rent. Clothing was offered for sale and an ‘underground’ yoga clothing movement was born. The success of the clothing was dependent on the feedback from yoga instructors who were asked to wear the products and provide their insights.

Founded in 1998, Lululemon’s first real store opened in the beach area of Vancouver called Kitsilano, in November of 2000. The idea was to have the store be a community hub where people could learn and discuss the physical aspects of healthy living from yoga and diet to running and cycling as well as the mental aspects of living a powerful life of possibilities. Unfortunately for this concept, the store became so busy that it was impossible to help the customer in this way and also sell their products.

So the focus of training shifted solely to the Lululemon educator or staff person. The goal was to train people so well that they could in fact positively influence their families, communities and the people walking into the stores. Although the initial goal was to only have one store, it was soon obvious that there was a huge demand for their products as the Yoga Craze had gripped the entire North America by then.

Lululemon Athletica during that time has gone from complete obscurity to now defining and dominating their category. In the process, they have taken away a significant market share from the brands like Nike, Adidas, Puma and Reebok. Unlike these mega-brands, Lululemon have chosen not to spend millions of dollars to sponsors like a Michael Jordan or David Beckham, instead have wisely opted for a more local approach. They identified 20 most respected yoga teachers, personal trainers and fitness leaders in the area and give them a couple of free shirts and bottoms. Simple enough, but they did not stop there.

They then took professional photos of these influencers and blew them up onto massive canvases to display in their stores. The ‘models’ now appeared as celebrities and this increased their credibility as respected and valued members of the community. Plus, because they contain captions such as, ‘Dana Cope, Owner of Chatswood Yoga’ it is free advertising for the local trainers which helped them to grow their business. The combination of free product, free exposure and the more subtle benefit of appreciation, meant these local identities become fiercely loyal and wear only Lululemon clothes.

As their business grew, more people saw and wanted the gear worn by their trainers, which led to hordes of new people into Lululemon stores. An excellent win-win scenario was born. Even though most of their products are high priced, they are in great demand as their business turnover proves.

Yoga for sure has been exploited by the North Americans in a great way to turn out Yoga teaching centers, apparels and equipment. Now let us watch out for the next Indian item on the agenda, waiting to be exploited by the North Americans.