Hes fit. Hes agile. Hes fast. And hes just turned 86. Heres introducing Shambhuraje Govind Deshpande,who has earned himself the distinction of winning 100 medals at athletics in the last 25 years. His 100th was won at the 34th National Masters Athletic Championships,held in Bangalore from June 27 to July 1. He was awarded the silver medal in high jump.
I started competing in these events at the age of 60 and have been going on since, says Deshpande,digging out the various certificates and medals he has won in the last 25 years. He particularly likes looking at the photographs of these events and the people he met during them. These people competed with me in Sri Lanka,this was at Australia,those were at Bangalore,he says excitedly pointing to one picture after another. Many have been labelled with details of the specific event,date and place but he doesnt really need the labels because his memory serves him well.
Deshpande then waves his hand around,drawing attention to his small,one room in Bibvewadis Otta houses and says,We dont have any space to display the trophies and mementos,some have even been misplaced but these photographs and certificates I cherish.
Giving details of the sports events he participates in,Deshpande lists high jump,long jump,triple jump,100 m,200 m races,80 m hurdle race and pole vault.
His practice regime involves regular walks to Parvati or Taljai. Thats all. I have been going for these walks for many years now,much before I started competing in sports for veterans. I say,dont practice,just stay fit. One can be very good at a sport by practising days ahead of the event but if general fitness is lacking,theres no chance of winning, he shares.
So how does he know the winning tricks for the various athletic events? I used to love sports as a kid too. When I was about 11,studying in the city school,there was a selection for the school cricket team. I went for it but was told to go back because I did not have the right attire. Thats how athletics happened. I gave it my best shot and my principal noticed it. Then onwards, I have been competing in school competitions and winning medals, he says. In 1947,the year Deshpande was to write his matric exams,he competed in nine school events and won them all. But I failed matric and my family told me it was no good to be winning medals if I couldnt pass. So in 48 I again attempted the exams and passed with 48 per cent, he laughs at the memory. He adds that the tricks he learnt in school and college are what remain in his mind to date. There is no space near my house to go and practice,but I dont need to either. Its all there in the mind. Winning is merely a matter of fitness and courage, he says poignantly.
What started as just a hobby has paid him well in terms of experiences. I have travelled to countries I had never ever dreamt I would see Korea,Australia,Taiwan,Thailand,Malaysia; all for the Asian Veteran Sports. I have to spend from my own pocket and I dont get anything in return but I dont mind it one bit. I represent my country and I come back with medals each time. That matters, says Deshpande,who funds all the trips with money saved from his pension amount.
He goes on to share that there is no stopping yet. “I will continue to compete and I’m confident I’ll win more. There is one condition though; the competition should be in a city or country I haven’t been to yet,” he ends cheerily.