Two years ago, when he won the 400m at the National inter-State athletics championship in Bhopal, his maiden individual gold at a senior national meet, K.M. Muhammed Naseem quickly lined up a new set of goals.
“I had planned to break K. M. Binu’s national record in four months, I began thinking about the Asian Games and the Olympics,” said the youngster who, at 20 and just out of the junior age group then, clocked an impressive 46.94 secs while winning the gold. In fact, he wanted to follow in Olympian Binu’s footsteps.
Naseem came up with a scorching run again a few months later, in December 2007, as he won the 400m equalling the all-India varsities record at the Mahatma Gandhi University Championship in Kochi. His 200m triumph, the next day, also came with a meet record which brought him the best athlete award. But life ran a very different course for the youngster soon after that.
He had suffered a hamstring injury while winning the 200m. “It was painful but at first, I thought a month’s rest and all would be okay,” said the athlete. But he had to endure a tortuous one and half years before returning to the track.
“I was in and out of hospitals, trying allopathic and ayurvedic treatments. And two months ago, I even thought of quitting the sport and taking up a coaching career. It was so painful, I was depressed and my confidence was very low,” revealed the 22-year-old at Kochi’s Maharaja’s Stadium after a training session. “I had even taken an application form for the NIS course.
“But my college Principal, Winny Varghese (of Mar Athanasius College, Kothamangalam), persuaded me to continue trying. He said, ‘we care about you’,” said Naseem.
That was a big comfort but when he resumed training a month ago, he feared that he would get injured again. With his coach T. P. Ouseph frequently motivating him, Naseem’s injuries, both in body and mind, slowly began to heal.
“Now, I’ve come out of that pain completely. I’m free,” said Naseem who won a bronze in the State inter-club championship, his comeback meet, in Kochi the other day. “And slowly, I’m getting my confidence back.”
Naseem hails from Androth Island, in fact he is the first senior National gold medallist from the Lakshadweep Islands. He was a late starter to athletics too, taking to the track in the 11th standard.
It was cricket and football that caught his fancy when he came to Kochi a few years ago. “My dad is employed with the HMT (in Kochi) and I was a fast bowler and the football striker at Kendriya Vidyalaya (Aluva).”
But he wanted to excel in individual events, so when he landed at the Jayakeralam School in Perumbavur, Naseem took to athletics seriously.
He won the 100 and 400m golds and the 200 silver in his first State Schools Meet and walked away with the individual championship too. Ouseph, who had coached some of the country’s best women jumpers, including former World championship long jump medallist Anju George, former Asian champion high jumper Bobby Aloysius and Lekha Thomas in their early years, was impressed when he saw Naseem running for the first time at the district schools meet.
“He runs very tall, I felt he could hit it big, I knew he would be a medal prospect in Asian meets,” said Ouseph. Naseem is hungry again to grasp gold, “but I don’t have a master plan to get big international medals now. I know I can get them some day, only, they now appear a little more distant. I have lost much time, I have to work harder,” he said.
The two-month pre-Olympic national camp in South Africa in 2007 had taught him that the hurdles to success are all in the mind. “None of the Indians wanted to talk to the South African athletes. I realised that our athletes felt inferior to the foreigners. We were putting ourselves down, mentally,” said Naseem.
His goal for now is to win a gold for Lakshadweep in the next National Games. That could hand him the little wings to try to fly again.