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Herbies India head Parsons emerges from 1,260km charity walk with $300,000, mental endurance and Mangalorean squid

Parsons: Beardy but happy
Parsons: Beardy but happy

Herbert Smith Freehills partner of 30 years and India country head Chris Parsons was on leave from the firm for a month starting 10 January to “sleep under buses, [do] physiotherapy lying on dust [and] eat in Dhabas” as he walked 42km everyday from Mumbai to Bangalore to raise $1m for Indian widows.

Parsons’ 1260km charitable marathon dedicated to the Loomba foundation’s work for widows was to mark his 30 years at the law firm. He succeeded in raising $300,000 by the end of the marathon but was “optimistic” that he would reach the $1m target since donations were still coming in.

“I gained a hell of a lot out of this. It wasn’t about me simply giving,” commented Chris, adding, “I didn’t do it as a business development thing I did it because I recognised I have been a very fortunate chap and it felt like only the right thing to do to mark my 30 years was by doing something charitable.”

“I guess, probably, 80 per cent of the fundraising has come from the UK. Culturally my experience in India is that many wealthy Indians will set up their own foundations and put money into their own foundations for charitable purposes, whether for education or whatever they are passionate about. But they wouldn’t then support anything else. They’ll just support their own foundation,” he commented.

Parsons, who trained for two years for this marathon, was supported by a sponsored team consisting of a physiotherapist, a person in charge of logistics and two drivers in two cars carrying food, drink and the medical kit.

His days on the road were 12 hours long, 7 hours of which he walked on a route designed and tested through a recce by a travel professional and his team. A smartphone application was also made for this route after 25 days of work by that team, and Parsons was on a tracker at all times during his walk.

He chose Mumbai as the starting point because that is where he primarily operates from as Herbert Smith Freehills’ India head, and Bangalore as the end point because he teaches at NLSIU Bangalore.

He was also urged by the Indian high commissioner in the UK to walk on the upcoming Bangalore Mumbai Economic Corridor (BMEC) as symbolic of fostering goodwill between the UK and India – since the two countries have signed a memorandum of understanding to develop the BMEC.

“My two biggest worries going into it were: irrespective of how much training I did could I physically just do it? Or would I just get to Day 7 and my body would say the end. So that was one worry and the other worry was just getting ill. I was lying, doing my physio in dust, having my afternoon sleep in car parks, practically under buses.

"I was eating in Dhabas, I was eating salads, eating just whatever the team was eating so was worried if my stomach gets upset. And of course the big unknown was the mental challenge – whether even I was fit enough, whether my mind would just say one day - maybe on day 15: 'Chris you can’t do this. It’s crazy, too difficult, give up now'. And you can’t train for that. That’s just something that either happens or doesn’t happen.”

Parsons did manage to walk his target each day for 30 days without any adversities, except facing traffic that, he said, turned out to be his “nemesis” on NH17 where he was “extremely fortunate to not be knocked over”.

The reward of that, besides learning “how important the psychology and the mind is”, was discovering a favorite new Mangalorean squid dish amid tasting local South Indian cuisine every day, and blogging about his adventures everyday with an ever-increasing readership.

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