Born to run
Rajkumari, 13-year-old Ankit’s mother, had never seen her son run. Even though he had won a lot of competitions and people ask her to go and support him, she had been very reluctant. But on one particular day Rajkumari decides to see her son in action.
“I never knew that the ‘stadium’ was so big,” says Rajkumari, staring in disbelief. As Ankit gets ready to start his warm up exercises, she patiently waits on the sidelines.
Happy to see his mother, as a spectator, watching his trial runs, Ankit quickly shifts his focus the moment he sets foot on the track. “On your mark, get set, go!” Ankit dashes forth and comes first in the trials.
Connecting the dots Rajkumari now understood the reason for Ankit’s exhaustive state every time he got back home from practice. “When he would come back from practice, I used to tell him to help me out with some chores at home. I didn’t think it was such a big deal. I would always compare him to other boys and nag him to study also. He always felt like I didn’t understand him. Now I know what he was trying to communicate to me. He has to run so much and train so hard. His body endures a lot of physical exertion but he never told us how tired he really was. I feel even more proud of him now. He runs with so much determination and focus.”
Catching his breath after his first run, Ankit paces himself for a long gruelling day of training on the tracks.
“When I run, I can only hear the sound of the wind; all other voices and people around me vanish. I love to run because I am very good at it,” says, 13-year-old Ankit Kumar.
Every morning at 05:30am when everyone else is asleep Ankit’s mom wakes him up just by saying don’t you want to go to the stadium? Instantly the young athlete springs up on his feet and dashes off to the stadium by 6am. But his mother constantly worries about his safety.
“We have rigorous training from 06:00am to 08:00am. It starts with two rounds of the grounds, after which there is a workout and finally we race,” says Ankit.
Starting from Grade 4 Ankit has always been a crowd favourite. “My friends tell me you’re good in racing, so you should continue that. But my mom reminds me that it is important to study also. I also motivate other children, in my community, who run fast to come and join me in the stadium, but they only come during the holidays. My physical education teacher encourages me to go to the stadium. He also gives me special permission to leave school early on some days in the week, so that I can train at the stadium from 4:30pm to 6:30pm," he says.
In the city level athletics meet organised by World Vision India in September 2015, Ankit stood out among the rest and bagged the gold in the 4x100 meters relay and 2 bronze medals in the 100 meters race and long jump respectively. “We noticed this small boy, who was so quick on his feet despite not wearing any shoes. That’s when we decided to gift, a pair of track spikes, to him and other children who won in the track and field competition,” says Mercy Nimal (Manager, North West Delhi-MCI, World Vision India). This simple gift further sparked Ankit’s interest in running more frequently and now he goes regularly to the Government stadium for training. “I can run faster with these shoes because it gives me a good grip. I was even able to come first in the 400mts try-outs held in the stadium. My coach tells me that I clocked in 1min 14secs, which is good I think. However, I like the 100mts the most, because it doesn’t tire me out so much,” says Ankit enthusiastically.
Ankit has represented the stadium in several track and field events and always wins a medal.
“Ankit has a good running technique. If he just improves his diet and practices regularly he can go very far,” says Raman, Ankit’s coach.
After watching the Hindi Movie ‘Bhag Milkha Bhag’ (Run Milkha Run) based on the life story of a former Indian track and field sprinter Milkha Singh, Ankit’s determination to succeed has increased. “Milkha Singh is my idol; he also ran bare feet initially. I want to run like him. He was India’s fastest runner," says Ankit.
The North West Delhi Area Development Programme (ADP) has extensively used sports as a means of engaging youth and children in the community development interventions. Through these gatherings, messages on child rights, gender based violence, drug abuse and others have made their way into the minds of young players. To further promote the talents of children in sports, the ADP has developed a working relationship with the Delhi Olympic Association. In October 2015, the youth team from the community participated in the Tug of War Events (Men’s 600 kg and Women’s 400 kg) organised by the Delhi Olympic Association. “World Vision India provided the youth with a coach who trained them for the competition. The women’s team even won the bronze medal at the sporting event. We’ve been able to connect with so many children and their families through the medium of sports,” says Alvina Singh a Community Development Facilitator with World Vision India.
Ankit is the oldest of three children and is an active member of the children’s club in his area.
His father works long hours as an auto rickshaw driver and is the sole earning member of the family. Apart from being a homemaker his mother, 33-year-old Rajkumari is also the leader of a Self Help Group (SHG) and is also an active member of a Community Based Organisation (CBO) called Jagrukt Mahila Mandal. She volunteers at the World Vision tailoring centre too.
Rajkumari was a silent observer of World Vision India’s work for the past few years and saw how the women in her community were benefitting. "Being a B.A graduate, I decided to gather the women in my area to form a group. We save Rs.100 per month and get a lot of relief from the loan facility in the group. Now our husbands understand the importance of the group, especially in times of emergency, if one needs to take a loan. It is not only a group where we save money, but where we also learn to save ourselves by learning about our rights. Now the men also listen to us and take our advice in household decisions. As the leader of the SHG, I also attend a lot of trainings conducted by World Vision India. I motivate the women in my group not to accept abuse as a normal phenomenon especially if it happens regularly. The SHG is a space where women can talk freely about their family, life and other problems. They know that nobody is going to beat them here for voicing their opinion. It is important to fight for one’s own rights. Women have stopped accepting violence as a part of their life. They are speaking up about it. For us, that is the greatest part about being in a SHG."
Like any mother, Rajkumari’s dream about a bright future for her cherished Ankit. “I want my child to succeed in his education as well as sports. When he has to go outside to represent his school or someday even India, he will have to speak in English so I don’t want him to fall behind in his studies and want him to give equal importance to education,” says Rajkumari.
For Ankit, right from waking him up for early morning training sessions to providing the right nutrition, despite their financial limitations, his mother is his biggest motivator in life.
"I want to make her proud and also make people realise how much she has sacrificed for us,” he says.