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Standing tall – from a wheelchair

Capt Seshadri tells us the extraordinary story of Para-Olympian Deepa Malik who brought home the silver medal from Rio, in 2016.

This is a saga of unbelievable courage and the will to win against all odds. Set in the backdrop of the Kargil war, when a brave army Colonel was fighting for his country, back home, his wife was fighting for her life.

This is the true story of a woman with indomitable spirit, who simply refused to give up.  Army daughter, army wife and mother of two, Deepa Malik was diagnosed with a tumour in the spinal cord that required 3 major surgeries and 183 stitches between her shoulders. Paralyzed from below the waist, she was destined to be consigned to a wheelchair for life. Her elder daughter was in need of special care with a motor disability called hemiplegia. But nothing could daunt this extraordinary woman who simply refused to look helplessly upon life as a paraplegic. While most able bodied sports persons would be content with success in a single sport, Deepa began a multi-faceted sports career at 36, an age when most sportspeople retire.  Over the next few years, she became a champion biker, swimmer, rally driver and athlete, creating and breaking records in every sport that she attempted.

The Unstoppable Spirit 

Her old passion for biking was rekindled and, with a ‘quad’ bike modified to her specifications, she enrolled with the Himalayan Motorsports Association and the Federation of Motor Sports Clubs of India. Over an 8 day period, in rarefied atmosphere and sub zero temperatures, at an altitude of 18,000 feet, she rode her bike through 1,700 km, the first woman to undertake such an arduous journey. In 2013, Deepa biked 3,278 km from Chennai to Delhi, the longest ever drive by a paraplegic woman.

Discovering that her shoulders needed strengthening to help with her biking, she took to swimming, little realizing what she was about to achieve. In her S1 category, she holds national records in 3 styles – freestyle, breast and back stroke. Breaking away from the limitation of a swimming pool, she plunged into the Yamuna river and swam against the current for a distance of 1 km.

Her competitive spirit soon turned to a new area. For 19 months, Deepa relentlessly fought for a licence for an invalid person’s modified rally vehicle and followed it up with an FMSCI rallying licence for competitive driving, both firsts for any physically challenged person. Her grit and determination saw her complete two of the toughest rallies in the world – the Raid de Himalaya in 2009 and the Desert Storm in 2010.

The Big Win

In 2016, at age 46, Deepa won a silver in the Paralympics in the shot put, becoming the first Indian woman to win a medal in these Games. Currently, she holds national records in the F53 category in the shot put, discus and javelin throws and the Asian record in the javelin. Between 2010 and 2012, Deepa was ranked first in Asia in all the three throws; at the world level, she ranked second in the shot put and third in the javelin and discus throws.

Overall, Deepa Malik has won 58 national and 18 international medals in various disciplines. Not one to rest on her laurels, she also actively works to highlight the needs of other paraplegic sportspersons to the authorities, with great success. For her achievements in swimming, she won the Arjuna Award in 2012. Her untiring work in contributing to sport and her fighting spirit against pain and disability to make a mark on the world stage, won her the prestigious Padma Shri award in 2017.

Deepa had this to say on winning her 2016 Paralympics silver: “I hope my journey and the medal can serve as an inspiration for differently-abled individuals to break out from their social boundaries and pursue their dreams.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

Capt Seshadri Sreenivasan is a former armed forces officer with over 30 years experience in marketing. He also a consulting editor with a leading publishing house. He is a co-author of the best selling biography of astronaut Sunita Williams.

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Sea Link, Road Run

The just concluded 15th edition of the Tata Mumbai Marathon 2018, a review by Capt Seshadri Sreenivasan. 

The pre-event

A mildly warm and humid Amchi Mumbai greeted us as we landed in the city for the 15th edition of the Mumbai Marathon, this year, the Tata Sons sponsored Tata Mumbai Marathon, or the TMM. Late morning of the eve of the run, our entry into the pre-event expo at the Bandra Kurla Centre was met with a massive crowd, many of them sporting T shirts with the slogan ‘I Move Mumbai’.

And Mumbai moved that morning, but rather slowly. A sea of humanity that would have put the holiday crowd at Chowpatty to shame, crammed into the narrow corridors between the seemingly unending rows of stalls, displaying and marketing literally everything from running gear and protein supplements, which one would rather expect, to insurance and customized software. Every stall was packed with eager runners and their families, the experienced ones networking and hobnobbing and the first timers eagerly seeking information and advice and investing in what was being propagated as the ideal running apparel and accessories. And as the marathoners of the next day collected their bibs and goody bags, they were treated to fun and games at the adjacent food court, serving delicious, freshly conjured up varieties of pasta.

And moving in the midst of all this was a figure who strode tall, who stood out with an unmistakable aura of greatness, the brand ambassador of TMM 2018, world champion pole vaulting legend Sergey Bubka.

The event

From as early as 4.00 in the morning, the suburban trains were packed with runners, mostly in groups, chattering away animatedly amidst much grinning and back slapping. The spirit of Mumbai was very much in evidence as those inside made space and welcomed the entrants at every station, till the trains pulled into the common destination of the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus. The Azad Maidan, which was the marshalling point for the event, had anything but an ‘azadi’ look about it as the crowds swelled in number every minute, selecting their respective entry points for the four events: the full and half marathons and the newly introduced 10k charity run and the senior citizen 6 km dream run.

The gates opened to much cheering and charged up adrenaline as the athletes assembled in their ‘buses’ with pacers sporting banners displaying the timing in which the group in the ‘bus’ hoped to complete the marathon, right between 2:45 and 6:00 hour durations. The Mumbaikers were everywhere. All along the route, from as early as 6.00 am, spectators in as varying age groups as a sprightly 75 to an excited 4 years lined up to cheer the participants. It did not matter that they knew them or not; every participant was encouraged with unflagging enthusiasm.

There were runners from all over the country and from abroad. The ‘elite’ runners, or the professionals in both the men’s and women’s categories, who were competing for medals and honours, were led as has become the norm, by the Ethiopians and Kenyans, with the top Indian runners hot on their heels. 45,000 runners in the four categories were backed all along the route with water, electrolytes and refreshments, with medical teams and ambulances on stand-by at designated points to cater to any emergency.

With the advent of dawn, the athletes were presented a panoramic view as they crossed the sea link, with the blue of the sky and the azure ocean melting in the distance. But as the early morning mist cleared and the warm sun rose in the skies, the increasing temperature and humidity began making it tougher for the runners, especially in the latter part of the race. Nothing deterred them however, as they literally put heart and soul into their legs all the way to the finish where they were received with thunderous applause from the spectators and fellow athletes alike. Fatigue and pain were forgotten for the moment as they sprinted across the finish line to receive their well-earned medals and refreshments. Celebrations were certainly on the cards as the finishers thronged the nearby pubs to quench their thirst with that most popular chilled beverage called beer!

Promises filled the air… promises to return the next year and once more be a part of this wonderful event called the Mumbai Marathon, a heady but healthy drug, an addiction and a magnet that will never stop attracting participants again and again and again.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

Capt Seshadri Sreenivasan is a former armed forces officer with over 30 years experience in marketing. He also a consulting editor with a leading publishing house. He is a co-author of the best selling biography of astronaut Sunita Williams.

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Don’t stop till you touch the sky

Sergey Bubka, athlete supreme, the man who was never limited by the heights that he literally achieved, is in India, as the brand ambassador for the Tata Mumbai Marathon on January 21, 2018. A profile of the prolific man by Capt Seshadri.

Picture in your mind, for just a moment, a man jumping from the ground to the roof of a two storeyed building. Now, this is no Superman or comic book hero performing a stunt, but a living, breathing individual who vaulted his way to fame, clearing 6.15 metres or, 20 feet 14 inches. A world champion pole vaulter for 21 years, the first man to breach the 6.0 metre barrier, while breaking the men’s record 35 times and bettering his own, untouched record 14 times, thus making his name synonymous with the pole vault.

Sergey Nazarovich Bubka, born on December 4, 1963, in Ukraine, part of the erstwhile Soviet Union, began his career in athletics with the 100 metres sprint and the long jump. He started competing on the international athletics scene in 1981 as a pole vaulter at the European Junior Championship, where he finished a moderate seventh. His leap to fame however, took an upward turn in 1983, with his world championship gold at Helsinki, clearing 5.70 metres (18 feet 8 inches). During the next couple of decades, he became simply unbeatable.

If the cliché ‘raising the bar’ were to be epitomised, he would be the lone author. His maiden world record of 5.85 metres, was set on May 26, 1984, a date coinciding with the conquest of Everest by Tenzing Norgay and Sir Edmund Hilary, precisely 31 years earlier. After them, on earth, there were no more frontiers to conquer; for Bubka though, his achievement was but a small beginning. Just over a year later, on July 13, 1985, he cleared 6.00 metres (19 feet 8 inches), a feat that had been considered impossible by any human. Not one to rest on his pole, he went on, over the next ten years, to consistently break his records time and again, pushing himself on his own, despite the fact that there were no opponents to challenge him.

In the days before Perestroika, Soviet athletes who set world records were rewarded with bonus payments, every time they set a new record. Bubka made a name for collecting these bonuses at every meet, by beating his own record, many a time by as slim a margin as one centimetre! This constant improvement made him a star attraction and an object of much speculation at athletic meets.

The gap was too wide, too high, for the rest of the world. Until January 2014, no other pole vaulter on earth had jumped beyond 6.07 metres; Bubka, however, had cleared 6.10 metres as early as in 1991, in San Sebastian, Spain, such was his dominance over the event. On July 31, 1994, at age 31, when most athletes would have faded out, or when the world would have consigned them to retirement, Sergey Bubka reached his best ever leap of 6.14 metres (20 feet 1 ¾ inches), which still stands as the highest ever outdoor pole vault. He was not to be outdone indoors either. On February 21, 1993, at Donetsk, Ukraine, close to the town of his birth, he set the indoor world record of 6.15 metres, which stood firm for a couple of decades, till Frenchman Renaud Lavillenie cleared 6.16 metres. Ironically, this was at the same meet, at the same venue, in the same month, but 21 years later.

For an athlete of his calibre and achievements, the Olympics were a severe disappointment, his only gold coming in Seoul 1988, where he cleared 5.90 metres, far below his usual standard. It was probably a matter of pride for this great star that he retired from the pole vault in 2001, during a ceremony at his Pole Vault Stars meet in Donetsk, the very place where he established his world record.

Bubka’s secret to success could probably be attributed to a few key factors. For one, he possessed enormous strength and speed, combined with the agility of a gymnast. He would also grasp the pole at the extreme height to gain extra leverage. His style is referred to as the Petrov / Bubka technique, in which the vaulter concentrates on putting maximum energy into the bar on the upward move. This, combined with high running speed, allows the vaulter to benefit most from the recoil of the pole, thereby increasing energy into the swing.

This sporting genius was twice named Athlete of the Year by Track & Field News and is one of 24 athletes inducted as inaugural members of the IAAF Hall of Fame. Now well into his retirement, Sergey Bubka is the Senior Vice President of the IAAF and President of the National Olympic Committee of Ukraine. He is also an Honorary Member of the International Olympic Committee.

A little point of interest: Like many siblings who do not take after their parents, Sergei Jr is a professional tennis player.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

Capt Seshadri Sreenivasan is a former armed forces officer with over 30 years experience in marketing. He also a consulting editor with a leading publishing house. He is a co-author of the best selling biography of astronaut Sunita Williams.

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Importance of pre-race meal

Raghul Trekker gives you nutritional advice before the most celebrated marathon in India, the Tata Mumbai Marathon.

If you are a marathoner and if you live in India, you wouldn’t want to miss the Tata Mumbai Marathon. It is the most celebrated marathon considering the huge local support from the Government, Police, general public, etc. Also, you get to see some lightening elite runners (probably overtaking you at some point of your run). Many runners peak their training towards this race and target their personal best at this grand stage. The environment makes it possible too.

If it is your target race, you definitely need a proper strategy on your pre-race meal for which, we have to look into some calorie calculation. In general, the calorie expended by a person while running can be approximately measured using body weight and distance run. For sample calculation, I am considering a 65 kg runner

Body weight * distance run ≈ energy expended in calorie

65 kg * 42 km ≈ 2730 calorie

Almost everyone concentrates on their race week carb loading but surprisingly forgets their pre-race meal. It is more important than your race week nutrition. This amount of calorie, on an empty stomach, would all be supplied from the energy reserve which is usually somewhere near 2000 calorie which will be expended when you run a little over 30 km. Does it ring any bell? Yes, I am talking about the wall of a marathon. This is why people bonk between 30 & 35 km mark.

A pre-race meal of 500 calorie is a good way to start a race day with this being 90 min before the race start if it is solid food or 15-30 min before race start if it is liquid food.

Now that we have understood some numbers related to how much is expended and how much is to be consumed, it is time to understand the breakage of consumption in terms of fat and carbs. For a marathon, we can expect finish times of 120 min to 360 min range. With this we can recommend the following (the below calculations are based on heart rate zones)

  1. Fast runners 120-150 min: a high carb pre-race meal with a shot of caffeine. The carbs being a mixture of high GI and low GI.
  2. Intermediate runners 150-200 min: a high carb pre-race meal & little bit of fat. The carbs being low GI.
  • Slow runners 200 min or above: a carb & fat mixed pre-race meal. The carbs being low GI.

Fast runners 120-150 min

Cereals with almond milk, grapes, banana, white bread with jam and other high GI foods. The high GI carbs will provide fast release of energy. A shot of caffeine from coffee, caffeinated salt capsules, caffeinated energy drinks, etc.

Intermediate runners 150-200 min

Fruits like apple, pears, oranges, yoghurt, grainy bread and other low GI foods in combination with cereals, grapes, banana and other high GI foods. The low GI carbs will provide slow release of energy for a prolonged period.

Slow runners 200 min & above

Grainy bread with peanut butter, cheese, avocado, nuts like almonds, pistachio, cashew, groundnuts with almond milk, millets and other fat & carb mixed meal. The fat will supply energy for the slow runners because they will use more of fat while running at low HR zones than the faster runners. So, this fact cannot be overlooked.

Consider the above points and put yourself into one of the categories to suit an apt pre-race meal for your upcoming marathon. Since the race starts at 0540 hrs, I would consume a semi solid pre-race meal at around 0445 hrs after a long 8 hour sleep.

With a little bit of smartness, you can do a lot better

All the best for your PB.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Raghul Trekker is the Head Coach at Tri Crash ‘n’ Burn (a unit of Dhaamz Sports & Entertainment Pvt Ltd). A 4-time Ironman coaching more than 100 athletes for the last 3 years. Tri Crash ‘n’ Burn is a team of more than 60 triathletes and runners constantly pushing the limits to better their personal best. You can check out more about them at tricrashnburn.com

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Beat Depression with Running

Can running really make a difference in those who live with the Black Dog? Radhika Meganathan talks to consulting psychiatrist, Dr Shiva Prakash, an avid runner and one of the winners in ‘Couples’ Best Timing’ category at the recently concluded TWCM. 

Depression is no longer a strange word, and from what recent studies reveal, it’s not even an adult condition anymore.  World Health Organization (WHO) states that 350 million adults and a rising number of teens in the world suffer from depression. If this almost-epidemic disorder is so widespread, is it possible for a simple sport like running to combat it?

The answer is yes. Exercise has long been recommended as a supplementary treatment for depression and anxiety and addictions.

Anusha*, a 32 year old interior designer from Chennai, cites running as a godsend last year. “I was reeling from my husband’s infidelity and my divorce proceedings were extremely ugly. It was a traumatic period,” she says candidly. “I became withdrawn, isolated and prone to severe mood swings. My best friend begged me to be her running buddy, and I reluctantly agreed. To my surprise, I loved it… the training, the high, the goals, and especially meeting other marathoners in the gym that we work out. Running essentially brought me out of the shell I had built around myself.”

A disturbing statistic is that more women are affected by depression than men and it’s not surprising Anusha found running to be her savior from depression. Certain studies have concluded that “running is just as effective as psychotherapy in alleviating symptoms of depression.” We asked Dr Shiva Prakash, Chennai-based consultant psychiatrist and member of Schizophrenia Research Foundation (India), and he confirmed the results.

“Depression is not a visible or a socially accepted disorder, so the sufferer becomes isolated in act and thought, convinced that nobody believes or understands their agony. This brings down motivation, so they end up inactive and stagnant, which even more worsens their mental and physical health,” he said in an exclusive interview with The Finisher. “So when they take up an aerobic exercise like running, it causes positive neuro-chemical changes, including runner’s high that sends an immediate burst of endorphin’s, in their system, and they feel a sense of accomplishment and pleasure that ultimately helps them get out of the vicious cycle of depression.”

According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists (UK), exercise works to alleviate depression by:

  • Influencing certain chemicals in the brain, like dopamine and serotonin which are used by brain cells to communicate with each other, affecting your mood and thought
  • Stimulating brain derived neurotrophic factors, which are fundamental in new brain cell growth and development.

When you think about it, running does exactly that, lifts you from your depressive mood. It forces you to get out of a rut (or away from a depressive situation), to move your body, to meet other people if needed, and ultimately, to achieve a target. No matter how small that target is, once you achieve it, you are filled with satisfaction and sense of self-worth. “A mere 30 to 45 minutes of running every day can be a real mood booster,” affirms Dr Shiva Prakash.

Identifying depression

Officially termed as a mental disorder, depression is the world’s leading cause of disability. It is certainly treatable, but mere sport or exercise cannot be the cure. Feeling lackluster, worthless, suicidal, isolated, low self esteem, excessive sleeping, excessive eating – If you feel you have been exhibiting these symptoms of depression for a long time, it is best to consult a medical professional immediately.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

A published author and an avid rambler, Radhika Meganathan is a recent keto convert who may or may not be having a complicated relationship with bacon and butter.

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The high jumper who never looked down

 

This is a story of extreme determination and courage is what defines Mariyappan Thangavelu’s story. Capt Seshadri explores his extraordinary journey.

A chronicle of the extraordinary achievements of an ordinary boy, one of six children, hailing from a little village in Salem District of Tamil Nadu, undaunted by disability, pain and the odds that were stacked against him.

When Life Changed

A little boy, five years of age, while on the way to school, was hit by a drunk truck driver. The huge wheels ran over his little leg, crushing the bones below the knee and making it virtually unusable. This was a child whose labourer father had abandoned the family, which was now dependent for a livelihood on their mother, who earned a paltry 100 rupees a day carrying bricks at construction sites. Fifteen years later, the same young lad who had never considered himself different from anyone else, had completed not just his schooling, but had also graduated in Business Administration.

While in school, he excelled in volleyball; however, his physical instructor, spotting a special ability in him, encouraged him to take to high jumping. Such was his motivation and confidence, that at age 16, he placed second in a high jump competition among a host of able bodied competitors.

The High Jumper 

In 2013, Mariyappan Thangavelu, the young high jumper, was spotted by Mr Satyanarayana, a coach with the Sports  Academy of India for the differently abled who, a couple of years later, took him under his wing and moved him to Bengaluru, for specialised and intensive training. The move proved extremely fruitful. The journey to fame was from Tamil Nadu to Tunisia for the IPC Grand Prix, where he cleared a height of 1.78 metres ( 5 ft 10 in) in the men’s high jump T 42 event, qualifying him for the Rio Paralympics. The young man was apparently not satisfied with this performance. In Rio in 2016, he raised the bar to clear 1.89 metres (6 ft 2 in) to win gold, a feat that had not been achieved since 2004. ‘Master Blaster’ Sachin Tendulkar was so impressed by his performance that he set up a sports fund for his benefit.

Today, Mariyappan remains simple, humble and committed to his roots. Part of his prize money funded a paddy field and a better home for his mother. In his mind he still remains a village boy, seeking the continued affection of his old friends and shunning the formality that comes from such success.

Born: 28 June 1995 in Periavadagampatti village, Salem District, Tamil Nadu.

Achievement: Paralympic Gold – 2016, Padma Shri and Arjuna Awards – 2017.

Headlines: Plans by Aishwarya Dhanush to make a movie on his life.

Aspiration: to complete an MBA soon.

This is the inspiring and exemplary story of Mariyappan Thangavelu. For him, the bar is never too high.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

Capt Seshadri Sreenivasan is a former armed forces officer with over 30 years experience in marketing. He also a consulting editor with a leading publishing house. He is a co-author of the best selling biography of astronaut Sunita Williams.

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Dawn to Dusk – handling the long haul

Well, you might be prepared for the Dawn part but are you sure about the Dusk part? Let us foresee what is awaiting you in the afternoon, writes Raghul Trekker.

If you have already gone through the event information, you are well aware that you are going to cycle in the afternoon. Though this is relatively the coldest time of the year in Chennai, it is better to take precautionary measures to combat the heat. It would be around 30° C to 25° C which is not something to be ignored.

Gear yourself up with proper hydration plan for the cycling leg. Fill two to three bottles of electrolyte mixed with energy drinks. You might need 500 – 750 ml of fluid every hour of cycling. Considering the temperature drop and the reduction in perceived exertion as the dusk falls, you might need less than the above mentioned quantity.

Research says that, the absorption rate of energy drinks is faster when the system already consists of fluid/water in it. So, before you saddle up, it is good to consume an energy drink or at least sip some water to start off with.

There are lots of hydration drinks from different brands available in the market which fall under different categories.

  1. Electrolyte drink with no or minimal energy supply
  2. Energy drink with minimal electrolyte
  3. Energy drink with electrolytes

Out of the above three options, the most suitable drink for this event where you are put to test under the sun, is the one which has energy mixed with electrolytes.

During endurance activities like cycling, we lose 300-400 mg of sodium, 50-75 mg of potassium, 400 mg-600 mg of chloride, 20-30 mg of magnesium. The above values are approximate and may vary from person to person depending on each person’s sweat rate.

An excess of hydration in terms of electrolytes may lead to nausea, diarrhoea or vomiting.

Dehydration without proper replenishment may lead to cramps, muscular spasms, headache, improper functioning of brain and several other problems.

Considering the above factors, it is good to have a hydration plan in place.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Raghul Trekker is the Head Coach at Tri Crash ‘n’ Burn (a unit of Dhaamz Sports & Entertainment Pvt Ltd). A 4-time Ironman coaching more than 100 athletes for the last 3 years. Tri Crash ‘n’ Burn is a team of more than 60 triathletes and runners constantly pushing the limits to better their personal best. You can check out more about them at tricrashnburn.com

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The Queen of Indian Track and Field

The legendary runner, P T Usha, loved by millions and an inspiration to all athletes in the 80s, was known as the Payyoli Express. Capt Seshadri profiles the prolific runner. 

Kerala. God’s own country. A land of lush green forests, sprawling backwaters and a pristine coastline. Somewhere along the Malabar Coast of Kerala lies the quiet town of Payyoli. And through this town runs an express. An express that does not run on steam, diesel or electricity. An express, however, that has won 101 gold medals internationally.

Pilavullakandi Thekkeparambil Usha better known to India and the world simply as PT Usha, hailing from this little town, earned the title of the “Payyoli Express” through her immortal achievements on the athletics track. Such is her fame and popularity that not just streets but even babies are named after her.

The early 1980s were not a particularly conducive period for Indian athletes, far less a woman. International training facilities and experienced coaches were virtually unknown. Exposure to the world arena was very limited and there was a complete lack of scientific management. In this scenario, Usha started running at the age of 13. As early as in Class VII, she was so quick that she would beat the then District champion. During her training sessions, she would request male athletes to pace for her; however, they never asked her to pace for them, afraid that they might not be able to match her!

Motivation and training, both of which were largely self-developed, were crucial to success even at the National level. There was abundance of talent but no means to channelise it, recalls Usha. To quote her: ““After many years of experience in athletics, I am convinced that what we lack in India is not talent, but the basic, modern and scientific facilities. If we train our young Indian sports talents, nothing, not even Olympic medals, is unachievable.” She dedicates her achievements to her coach and mentor, OM Nambiar who, in 1985, won the Dronacharya Award for his contribution to Indian athletics.

Dwelling on the past, she recalls how she could have made it big in the Los Angeles Olympics if only she had had the opportunity to participate and benefit from more international exposure. Nevertheless, she became the first ever Indian woman to reach an Olympics finals, winning the 400 metres hurdles semi-finals in 1984. She rues the manner in which she lost the bronze by 1/100th of a second, simply because she didn’t lunge at the tape. She was not used to it, simply because she would usually win most of her races by margins of 10 m.

To crown a glorious athletic career, in 2002, after her retirement from active competition, PT Usha strongly felt the need to take sport to the grassroots level and train and share her experience with budding young talent. Hence was conceived the ‘Usha School of Athletics’ focussed on girl athletes who, she firmly believes, have the potential to bring home Olympic golds. Her school has 18 girls, mostly from underprivileged backgrounds, living on the residential campus, schooling during the day and training for over 5 hours every day, in the mornings and evenings. Funding comes purely from individual donations, but that does not deter Usha from pursuing her ambition and goals.

At a time when India was virtually unknown in international athletics, the Payyoli Express stood out as a shining example of what determination and hard work could achieve against all odds. An icon and a living legend, PT Usha swept the 100, 200, and 400 metres, the 400 metres hurdles, and the 4 x 400 metres relay at the 1985 Asian Track and Field Championship in Indonesia, pushing India up from 14th to 4th place in the overall championship list. Usha was honoured the same year with the Padma Shree and Arjuna awards.

The Payyoli Express, who still jogs unfailingly every morning, expresses her anguish at the dropping fitness levels in kids. The best way to get them fit is to organise family games like football, basketball and running, she feels. Dwelling on the bad food habits of today’s children, she talks about how she used to eat large quantities of potatoes for her carb requirement. The how the food in LA during the 1984 Olympics was so bland that she carried a bottle of pickles to add to her food!

When she is not running or training her wards, Usha loves watching movies and to clean and cook. Quite natural to her roots, fish curry is her favourite food. Simplicity personified, humble and humane, PT Usha has etched a name in Indian athletics that will stay in memory for a long time to come.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

Capt Seshadri Sreenivasan is a former armed forces officer with over 30 years experience in marketing. He also a consulting editor with a leading publishing house. He is a co-author of the best selling biography of astronaut Sunita Williams

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Jumping long, aiming high

Michael  Powell, is an Olympian who was a former track and field athlete, and is the holder of the long jump world record. Capt Seshadri profile the phenomenal athlete who was the a brand ambassador for the TSK25 Kolkata 2017

At 77 kilos, he was as light as a feather. He too could float like a butterfly, an attribute that belonged to another legend from his country, although of a different kind of sport.

This is the story of a world beating athlete who rediscovered himself. In April 2013, 17 years after retirement, he was invited to participate in a charity long jump event in Japan. Among the crowd was none other than his former foe, the legendary Carl Lewis. By then 35 kilos heavier than his normal weight, at a hefty 112 kg, and in no way fit to compete, he was disconsolate after faring badly against virtually unknown amateurs. Urged by one of his closest friends and former world triple jump record holder Willie Banks, to train back into shape, stunned by his own lack of fitness and now spurred into action, he returned to his home in California a completely changed man. A mere year and a half later, down to a trim 83 kg, he announced his ambitions of going for the World Masters long jump record. “Fat doesn’t fly and now I’m lighter it is about me getting that masters record,” says he. If he achieves this, he will be the only athlete to hold the World and Masters records in a single event.

This is the story of Mike Powell. The man who broke Bob Beamon’s ‘leap of the century’ by 5 cm, flying through the air to 8.95 m at the 1991 World Championships in Athletics in Tokyo, in the process, pushing ‘King’ Carl to second place. For his stupendous feat, he was rewarded with the James E. Sullivan Award and the BBC Overseas Sports Personality of the Year Award, the same year. In 1992, at Sestriere in Italy, he almost cleared 9m with a jump of 8.99 m, but the record did not stand as it was considered wind aided. However, as the years passed, he had to be satisfied with a silver in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, the gold in 1993 and the bronze at the 1995 World Championships in Athletics.

Mike Powell was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, but moved to study at Edgewood High School in West Covina, California. He went on to attend the University of California, Irvine and later transferred to the University of California at Los Angeles. He is a member of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity. Apart from his scholarly pursuits and his athletics career, his feat in basketball is a successful dunk from the free throw line in the 1992-93 Foot Locker Slam Fest! With music as his love and dancing being both his passion and a way of staying fit, he has even been a popular DJ!

Powell, who now coaches budding long jumpers at Academy of Speed in Rancho Cucamonga, California, is a brand ambassador for the TSK25 Kolkata 2017. He has very fond memories of India, the people, their enthusiasm and warmth, also recalling in lighter vein, the warmth of the weather.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

Capt Seshadri Sreenivasan is a former armed forces officer with over 30 years experience in marketing. He also a consulting editor with a leading publishing house. He is a co-author of the best selling biography of astronaut Sunita Williams

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