Appasaheb Gaikwad has maintained his weight between 68-70 kg for 21 years now. And the former wrestler and kabaddi player doesn’t remember a day in his 46 years since he first started practicing squats that he didn’t pack in at least 200 of them during the course of a day.
“Even when life was tough and we ate only bhaakri churaa (millet crumbs), salt and many chillis for meals so water could fill up stomach, I remember sticking to the routine of a few hundred baithaks (squats),” he says of finding strength in the toughest of times.
On Thursday, the resident of Supe village in Paithan of Aurangabad, Marathwada, will live out what he calls “the most important 3 minutes of my life”, when he guns for the Guinness Book record of 210 squats in 180 seconds.
Like everything else in life, he’s hoping to make good a second chance after failing to register the record in 2018 after his back was found by the jury to “not be upright” while pumping squats. “I failed to do anything in sport at a high level, so I want to at least achieve this,” says the former mud wrestler and kabaddi lover who never got going in sport.
After his last attempt was rejected, Gaikwad placed his feet wider apart to reduce the centre of gravity, which could help him hit the optimum speed to complete the action while keeping the body upright and managing the knee and thigh angles at 90 degrees and keeping the feet (toes, heels, sole) flat at all times. “We hung a cable (perpendicular to floor) in side position so I would constantly know if my body is arching by mistake,” he says of testing his locomotive ability of speed and strength, which puts immense stress on the hamstring and thighs if the angle is to be maintained. His torso curved to around 7 degrees under time pressure last time, he reckons.
Once he started training scientifically, he increased intake of fish, eggs and chicken working towards maintaining oxygen capacity levels. He’ll aim for 72-74 squats in the first minute, 68-70 in the second and go full throttle at 100 pc intensity in the final third.
Three cameras will capture his effort at a gymnasium hall in Aurangabad and three witnesses, including an international gymnastics judge and two advocates will be in attendance. One of the legal eagles had rejected a prior Guinness record attempt of “maximum number of people singing national anthem”, because he found the numbers of people singing, as claimed by the organisers to be exaggerated and refused to sign on the papers seconding the “visual evidence.”
Gaikwad with a rejection of his own, is undeterred. He had first sent a video of 4004 non stop squats in 1 hr 49.32 mins, which was not a valid category. No matter. He would try again.
The persistence comes from the adulation he saw his father, a milkman who reared buffaloes, get in dangals and what the now deceased mentor told him. “My father never lost in mud wrestling. At age 58, when he went to drop off milk cans to the adjoining village, he was challenged once to a fight against a 35-year-old pehlwaan. He didn’t tell relatives or villagers because he feared a loss would bring ignominy to the village. But I followed him on the day of the fight as a 12-year-old and secretly watched him win in front of 500 people. That moment is fixed in my memory,” he says.
As are the repeated failures. “I was good at kabaddi you know. I come from gopal samaj (milkmen) where education wasn’t emphasised. But my father insisted I go to school. For a family on the edges of poverty like ours, one bad incident can finish us,” he recalls.
The buffaloes died of a disease suddenly. Both father and son (then 14) went scarily quiet, and mother had to step out to put food on the plate for three sisters.
He finished third in the state in karate and wrestling in mid-90s and even bowled “deadly fast” in cricket by his own assessment. “One day I was thinking I’m going to be superstar in kabaddi like Sachin Tendulkar is in cricket and sport will make me famous, and the next day after the buffaloes died, we struggled to get food. I was depressed in high school because I knew I’d never do anything of note in sport,” he says. The downward spiral of his sporting dreams started, and before his father passed away, the only advice he left him was to never stop exercising.
“He told me don’t sacrifice physical training to go work in factory,” he recalls.
Meantime, he was pulled into the vortex of village politics. “We lived close to a Dalit vasti (settlement) and our houses always got flooded or washed away when they released water from the river unmindful of us living there. The sarpanch had been elected unopposed because he was a bully. The vasti people thought only I could take him on because I was strong and exercised daily and coached the children,” he recalls.
He would lose his first Gram Panchayat election by exactly 5 votes. Used to setbacks by now, he’d contest again after five years and help build canals, carry out electrification of the village and help build cement homes. “10-12 years went in that, and then I realised I wanted to resume sport,” he says of feeling rudderless.
In 2018 he would not be good enough for the Guinness, prolonging his 3-minute route to fame. “I know it’s tough and people have failed at getting to 200 in 3 minutes since 2007. I know I’ll not sleep well tonight. And rules are strict, I can’t go wrong. But I want to be known like my father who never declined a challenge of a dangal. I saw him win. I want my daughters and son to watch me do this too,” he says, feet firmly on ground.
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