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Fauja Singh, India's real Turbanator
From village simpleton to international frequent flyer, the 100-year-old Fauja Singh took to running to beat off loneliness. Today, he gives hope to others.
In the world of sports, the year gone has yet again reinforced man's mortality. That was the year that saw the passing away of legends like Joe Frazier, Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi, Socrates, Seve Ballesteros, Dan Wheldon and Basil D'Oliveira. But this was also the year which saw a 100-year-old man highlight all that's positive in life. Fauja Singh, a Sikh born 100 years ago in a nondescript town of Beas Pind in Jalandhar district of Punjab, put on his favourite running shoes on a cold wintery morning of October 13, 2011 and set eight world age group records in one day at the special Ontario Masters Association Fauja Singh Invitational Meet held at Birchmount Stadium in Toronto, Ontario Canada.
Warming up to the occasion, he loosened his limbs with a 100-m dash in 23. 14s;clocked 52. 23s in 200 m;was again on the mark to finish 400 m in 2:13. 48;the 800 m finished in a jiffy at 5:32. 18s. The 1, 500 m took a little longer (he felt) at 11:27. 81. The mile got a bit taxing in 11:53. 45;hit the wall running 3, 000 m in 24:52. 47, but once he crossed it, he was grinning at the sight of 5, 000 m (49:57. 39). He set new records, some bettering the world records in the M95 age category.
Three days later, he donned his shoes once again for the Toronto Waterfront Marathon. Not only did Fauja become the first 100-year-old athlete to complete a marathon, but he even set a record (8:25:17).
Fauja says he runs to keep negativity at bay. "The death of my wife, eldest daughter and a son shook me. One after the other, they were gone, it was as if my life had no purpose. I was on the brink of going insane. Then my kids who are settled in Canada took me there. I would sit alone and brood but nothing came out of it. Then I thought of running and that's how it began, " he says, admitting it was as late as 81.
The centurion shifted to London in 1994 after the death of his son left him devastated. His wife and a daughter's death had made him lonely. Now Fauja was on the brink of a mental breakdown. His family thought it better to shift him to London so as to bring some change in his life. Instead, the elderly found a new meaning in life. Since Fauja got citizenship in 2001, the old age pension of 130 pounds has mostly been spent on his running pursuits. Two fetishes that the 101-year-old has are swanky cars and shoes. As far as cars are concerned he does not drive and does not seem inclined to, but he buys shoes everywhere he goes. He is fond of running shoes even though they may look a bit gaudy on his frail body.
Once a simpleton who hardly went out of his village, Fauja now is a frequent flier, hopping from one country to another and setting new records. But off all the places it is London that excites him the most. "Human life is valued there. If you are ill doctors will take care of you. Everything is orderly and you don't have to worry about petty things, " he says. One thing that swells Fauja's chest with pride is the congratulatory letter from the queen on his 100 birthday.
Fauja, however, does not remember when exactly he was born. What he does remember is playing gulli danda and getting spanked every day. "After playing the entire day, I would get tired and my legs would start hurting. My mother would massage my legs with mustard oil even as the scolding went on unabated, " he says. Ask him more and he says disarmingly, "Internet ch sab dita hoya hai (Everything is available on the internet). "
With his sense of humour and incessant swearing, Fauja's mantra is simple. "If you want to live longer, eat less, don't take tension and shun greed, " he says.
On days when loneliness creeps in and threatens to get overpowering, though these moments are few and far between, he says he puts on his running shoes and goes out. Among his many plans this year, the London Olympics are a priority. "I want to hold the Olympics torch and run. I am waiting for that. Apart from that, there is the challenge of the Singapore marathon and other events. But first, I have to pay my obeisance at Harmandir Sahib in Amritsar. God only knows whether I will get that opportunity again or not, " he says.
Aware of the uncertainties of life, Fauja is not ready to lose faith. On the contrary, he is brimming with hope of one more year of glory. And it is this hope that lends a spring to his feet as he touches 101 on April 1, 2012.
FAUJA HII FAUJA
Birth place: Beas Pind (Jalandhar)
Age: 100 (April 1, 1911 according to Bristish passport)
Ad campaigns: Adidas, PETA
Biography: Turbaned Tornado
CAREER: Rediscovered at 81
MARATHONS RUN: London (5), Toronto (2), New York (1)
MARATHON DEBUT: London, 2000, aged 89
LONDON FLORA MARATHON 2000: 6:54
LONDON FLORA MARATHON 2001: 6:54
LONDON FLORA MARATHON 2002: 6:45
BUPA GREAT NORTH RUN (HALF MARATHON) 2002: 2:39
LONDON FLORA MARATHON 2003: 6:02
TORONTO WATERFRONT MARATHON 2003: 5:40
NEW YORK CITY MARATHON 2003: 7:35
LONDON FLORA MARATHON 2004: 6:07
GLASGOW CITY HALF MARATHON 2004: 2:33
CAPITAL RADIO HELP A LONDON CHILD 10, 000 M 2004: 1:08
TORONTO WATERFRONT HALF MARATHON 2004: 2:29:59
TORONTO WATERFRONT MARATHON 2011: 8:11:06
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