Updated: January 26, 2022 10:28:52 pm
One of my fondest childhood memories is that of Republic Day celebrations in my village Chaka Gopalpur, Odisha. The national anthem would be played and we would proudly stand at attention while looking at the tricolour. Sweets would be distributed to children — something all of us looked forward to. I enjoyed the mood in our village that day. January 26 was like a happy festival in the village.
As a child, I loved being outdoors and Republic Day was wonderful because once the official function was over, my friends and I would run around with the tricolour in our hands and people would cheer us. I would go through the lanes of not just our village but the adjoining villages as well. Holding the national flag always gave an extra spring to my steps.
A marathon was held in our village on January 26. I looked forward to the race; it was perhaps one of the first experiences of participating in a competitive event. At that point, I didn’t imagine that I would win medals for India in track and field one day. Memories of those days give me goosebumps today because we were told how our great leaders like Mahatma Gandhi and Subhas Chandra Bose played a big role in the freedom movement.
I feel it is important that students of today are told about the sacrifices made by those who fought for Independence because only then will they value the freedom they have.
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Looking back, I think the celebrations I took part in as a child, be it on Republic Day or Independence Day, is what made me determined to do something for the country.
When I started representing India, it was a proud moment for me. The feeling of wearing the India jersey at an international event is unmatched. In the early years of my career, small words of encouragement from coaches who said I had the potential to represent India helped. The first time I represented India was at the 2014 Asian Junior Championships in Taipei. I won gold medals in the 200 metres and the 4×400 metres relay. It was a proud moment for me when I stood on the podium and the national anthem was played. It brought back memories of Republic Day celebrations in my village.
When I win gold at an international event, the first thing I do is look towards the coaching staff for a tricolour. I hold the flag over my head and run a lap of honour in the stadium with the crowd cheering. Other athletes also do this. It gives us a real high.
On this Republic Day, I wonder if we as individuals are doing enough for the country. Or are we caught in our own lives? I am not saying that getting a good job and taking care of one’s family is not important. But are we thinking enough about doing something outside our immediate circle to help our fellow citizens?
I remember a message from our teachers. It was about doing something that would make the nation proud. Even the songs we played in school and our village were patriotic songs. I hope the next generation of youngsters also retains a sense of duty to the nation whether it is in playing sports, in academics, social service, or defending the nation.
As a sportsperson, I would say facilities have improved over the past five or six years. The Sports Authority of India’s training centres and boarding facilities are good and the diet we get has improved a lot. Young athletes are getting a chance to even go abroad for training and competition. Opportunities for athletes to showcase their talent are also more, an example being the Khelo India Games.
One area where we should focus on is tapping talent from rural areas. This would be possible if we start more training centres in villages and smaller towns. For those who live in and around a city, access to a stadium with a synthetic track is easier. Those who study in a village school should not have to travel to a city to train every day. We should take coaches to the villages to train these athletes in stadiums that are equipped with modern facilities. Only then can India’s real untapped talent be discovered.
This column first appeared in the print edition on January 26, 2022 under the title ‘R-Day memories and goosebumps’. The writer is the 100m national record holder, an Asian Games medallist, and an Olympian
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