August 15, 2021 8:08:17 am
Gold at the 2018 junior Asian Athletics Championships was supposed to come with the promise of better tidings. That’s what 800m specialist Anu Kumar hoped for. With the win he harboured dreams of making it big on the circuit, but the 18-year-old’s luck took a sudden dive. A shattered ankle, a harsh lockdown, and his father’s demise followed the on-track success.
Now he will compete at his first international competition since winning the continental title, when he takes to the track at the U20 World Athletics Championships in Nairobi. It’ll be a hard task for the youngster to follow in the footsteps of former worlds U20 gold medal winners Neeraj Chopra (2016) and Hima Das (2018), but his aim is to honour his father’s memory. His father, Mahipal Singh used to deliver gas cylinders in Haridwar till he lost his job during the pandemic-forced lockdown last year, and passed away in December. “My father always wanted me to do well in athletics. I thought when I reach New Delhi today, I will call him once. I almost forgot for a second that he’s no more,” Anu says, still on the way to the capital from his base in Patiala. “Then it hit me. I don’t know whom I will share my stories with now. I am still lost.”
The athletics squad is scheduled to leave on Saturday night for the world event in Nairobi. After his 2018 Asian triumph, expectations from Anu began to soar. He was the favourite to seal the berth for the 2018 Youth Olympics but was defeated by Sreekiran Nandakumar in the Asian area qualification held in Bangkok after an ankle niggle kept him down. “The pain was unbearable so I had to undergo an MRI to find the cause. There was some trouble with the cartilage in my ankle. It was due to the workload. The injury kept me away from any physically strenuous activity for a long time,” the World School Games silver medallist says.
The road to recovery was made tougher after the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic due to a lack of competition. The Indian athletics circuit had come to a standstill until March 2021 when the Federation Cup in Patiala was organised. Despite all these setbacks, Anu kept training with his coach in the hills of Pauri Garwhal. And just when he had found his rhythm and was clocking decent timings, came the heart-breaking news of his father’s death.
“My recovery was complete and I was doing really well. I received a call at 5:00 AM and I could not process what had happened. I still can’t. He was my biggest supporter and best friend. I shared every minute detail of my sport and life with him. It was his dream to see me run,” says the teenager.
Anu was so taken aback by this loss that he decided to hang his spikes. He didn’t see any purpose in continuing in the sport with his biggest supporter not being by his side. For the next three months, let alone training, Anu did not even step out of the house. It was then that Anu’s brother-in-law, who had inspired him to take up athletics in the first place, decided he had to step in.
“My brother-in-law told me I can’t be sitting and weeping like this and that I have to honour my dad’s memory and desires by continuing to run. My dad’s death had broken me, but I had to really push myself (to get back),” he recalls.
He may not be in the best shape at the moment, but he has a renewed vigour in his approach. He knows age is on his side, and there are plenty of competitions ahead where he can finish atop the podium. But Anu says there are some little joys that life has snatched away now, that even golds at international meets cannot compare to.
“My dad used to prepare the best fish curry in the world. Whenever I went home, he made it for me without fail,” he says. “I know that I won’t be able to have that meal again and I yearn for it. Medals toh aate rahenge, lekin phir se papa ke hath ka khana khane ka mauka nahi ayega ( Medals will come and go but I know I will never be able to have a meal prepared by my father again).”
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