Four years ago, when Bhag Milkha Bhag, based on the life of former athlete Milkha Singh released, a young Vinay Kumar would watch the movie again and again on television at his Sector 30 home. While his father Ishwar Lal and other relatives would ask him to concentrate more on studies, the youngster suffering from impairment in his left leg due to polio would think about competing in track and field events. On Wednesday, as 19-year-old Kumar returned from the Asian Para Games held in Indonesia last week after winning the bronze medal in the men’s 400 m race in the T44, 62/64, the youngster had one desire.
“I started running after seeing the movie Bhag Milkha Bhag. However, despite living in the same city, I have not met him ever. He is the best 400 m athlete India has seen ever and I hope winning this medal will make my dream of meeting him a reality. While my family always supported me, they were initially against my competing in any kind of sports and told me to concentrate on studies. I wanted to be a runner despite the disability and after I won medals at the national level, my family supported me to compete in sports too. Unfortunately, my mother Babli Lal died in 2015 due to kidney and heart ailment and this medal is dedicated to my mother,” said Lal, who is a student of BA-I at SD College, Sector 32.
Kumar initially started running on roads before training at Government College, Mohali. A chance meeting with coach Arvind Chahal, who was interning at Panjab University, meant that Kumar trained under him at PU grounds. Kumar won two silver medals in 200 m and 400 m respectively in the Para National Championship held at Ghaziabad in 2015 before winning the title in 200 m and 400 m events apart from a bronze medal in 100 m in the Para National Championship in Panchkula in 2016.
Last year, the youngster won three medals in the nationals in Jaipur before winning the silver medal in the 200 m World Para Athletics Grand Prix in China. Two months later, Kumar finished a close fourth in the World Para Athletics Championship in London with his personal best timing of 56.59 seconds, which he bettered in Indonesia with a timing of 54.45 seconds.
“When my mother died, I left training for some months which showed in my performance. Winning the medals in Panchkula and Jaipur nationals boosted my confidence and winning the silver medal in China made me realise that I can win at world level. Although I missed the medal in London by a small margin, it was my personal best. This year, I won the medals in world grand Prix in Tunisia. Despite winning the medals, I have never received any kind of support from UT Administration. I always take pride in playing for Chandigarh and will continue to do so,” added Kumar.
Kumar currently trains at Liveit Sports Centre under coach Arvind Chahal at Dhakoli, Zirakpur. “Vinay’s biggest strength has been his mental strength. When his mother died, he did not practise for some months but made a comeback. The fact that he wins medals in 200 m and 400 m races shows that he is a technical runner and is good in adjusting to the competition,” said Chahal.
Father Ishwar Lal too rates the medal as the biggest gift by his son. “We wanted him to be an engineer. But this medal is the biggest gift for all of us. I hope it will inspire other athletes,” said Lal, who is a project engineer with Central Government Employees Welfare Housing Organisation.