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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.



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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Gurubux Singh: An Olympian’s Tale

Capt. Seshadri talks about an Olympic gold medal winner, Gurubux Singh, who has been an inspiration for many with his positive attitude.

As the early morning sun peeps over the eastern horizon, it catches in its orange and purple rays the moving shadows and silhouettes of people against the green earth the open spaces. This is Kolkata, the city of joy.

One man, among the numerous walkers and runners, seeking their daily dose of physical salvation, stands tall. His upright gait and steady pace stands him out from among the rest. All of 82 years young, this former Olympic gold medallist and captain of the victorious hockey team of the 1960s sets an outstanding example for people over six decades younger to follow.

The Beginning

Born in pre-partition Peshawar, Gurbux Singh, son of an army officer, was a surprise recruit to hockey, having been Gurbux Singhweaned on badminton in his early teens, after the family moved to Patna. His hockey career commenced in Indore where he represented his college and then came to the fore in the nationals in Chennai where he represented what was then known as Madhya Bharat.

In 1964, Gurbux Singh found his moment of glory as part of the Indian hockey team that won Olympic gold in Tokyo. Subsequently, he was to be part of six Olympics: as player and captain between 1964 and 1976 and later as coach and selector and even as a television commentator at the Sydney Games in 2006. In a golden career spanning two decades, he had the fortune of associating with legends like Dhyan Chand, KD Singh Babu, Udham and Prithipal Singh. And of playing against the most formidable opponents in the world… Germany, Netherlands, England, Australia and of course, arch rivals Pakistan.

Those were days when the players received a pittance as allowance and even shoes and hockey sticks had to be bought by them. Foreign exchange was a whispered word. The federation did not even have money for medals and awards. There was no regular fitness routine or diet regimen. No doctors, no physios no masseurs. Most often, the players themselves acted out these variegated roles on one another, from their own experience.

Legends who inspire

For motivation, they sang songs on the team bus and in their hotel rooms. For diet, they ate what they thought was best for them. And for fitness, they ran. They ran to warm up, they ran while at play and they ran to cool down. Theygs1 ran because that was the only way they knew how to stay fit. And after running to warm up, they ran with their hockey sticks, on fields of clay and mud, dribbling and passing, stopping and scooping, and practicing scoring goals. They had little or no issues of injury, or problems of illness. And after a grueling routine of practice, they relaxed to songs on pocket transistors and took photographs on cameras with the old 72 frame rolls.

The story of legends like Gurbux Singh and his colleagues are the stuff of folklore. Or at least they ought to be. As an inspiration to the younger generation, Gurbux has this to say: “Play for your country, not for money and fame. These will unfailingly follow your success”.

“And run. Run for fitness, run for glory, run for life.”


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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

Read more