At 26, Vinu K., an amateur athlete and former senior Kerala Rugby team member, heads a family of 35 talented children, mostly drawn from the suburbs and economically-weak families.
The children are mostly selected from Mr. Vinu’s alma mater, the Government Higher Secondary School, Kuttikattoor, and see sports as a means to get a job.
For Mr. Vinu, who has passed Class X, keeping afloat his Navayuga Athletic Academy, Keezhmadu, is an uphill run and a daily challenge. Funds are short, there is no permanent space for training, and equipment is costly.
But medals raked in by his students at regular intervals in the district and sub-district athletic meets make up for all his hardships.
It was under his tutelage that the Kuttikattoor school emerged overall champions in the Kozhikode Rural sub-district school meet in 2012.
“I visit the school once in a while and scout for talent. Sometimes I ask around, especially with the teachers, about students who show potential. Then I speak to the students and their parents, trying to convince them to join the academy,” Mr. Vinu says. He runs the academy with Harikrishnan P.K., a B.Com. student.
Besides the children from his school, he has students coming from various parts of the district like Kottooli, Chevayur, Kunnamangalam, and Perumanna.
“I do not take a penny from any of them. Most of them cannot even afford to spend time on sports. I just want them to come. It is a blessing if they come everyday for practice,” Mr. Vinu, who won the gold consecutively at the Kozhikode Revenue District Amateur Athletics Meet from 2004 to 2008 in 100-m race, says.
Sanjay M., a Class IX student of the Kuttikattoor school, is one of his youngest students. An otherwise shy boy, his eyes light up when Mr. Vinu talks about his prowess in shot-put.
“We take the students to a nearby private gym for weight training. The monthly charge is Rs.200. For my students, it is a financial burden,” he says.
Two local clubs have offered Vinu space for training, but he has so far shied away from them.
“They have some political affiliation or the other. I do not want them to mix sports with politics. Besides, the children are my responsibility,” he firmly says.
“Availability of training grounds is a major problem for youngsters like Vinu, who are dedicated to sports. Weight training equipment are also expensive,” Vinodkumar V.V., a SAAF Games athlete and now a section officer with the Kerala Public Services Commission, who trains with Vinu, says.
But for Sonu O.M., a Plus Two student at the Kuttikattor school, who won the silver in the 5,000-m race in the Kozhikode Revenue District Amateur Athletics meet last year, training under Vinu at the academy is a means to get a job.
“First I have to get a job, then I will take my sports ahead,” he says.