"I have always set great store by fitness, as I was an athlete once and also a footballer", says hockey star Dhanraj Pillai
DURING AN informal get-together, hockey player Dhanraj Pillai who was in the State to take part in the BSA Cycle Run 2004 (a rally to spread awareness on the benefits of cycling), was bustling about the place, sitting astride a bicycle one moment and the very next, standing in a corner and sharing a joke with a journalist.
A few scribes found it hard to "keep pace with" this lightning-quick forward.
He would politely answer a question, and when you looked up hopefully from your scribbling pad, he would have vanished into thin air.
While scribbling down his words on matters such as cycling, keeping fit and staying optimistic, these scribes were virtually jogging along.
"On Sunday, I will be on the cycle run," said Dhanraj cheerfully.
"I can go the full distance," he added in a manner that suggested that he would find it easier than a walk in the park.
He recollected his growing-up years in Kirkee, Maharashtra, when his family was hard pressed for money.
"As a young player who was trying to get a foothold in the big league, I knew I had what it takes to reach the top - drive and tenacity.
"But I could not ignore the fact that our financial resources were limited.
The cycle was the only means of affordable transport. That the hockey training ground was quite far away was no deterrent - the to-and-fro trips entailed a 50-km ride. That bicycle is still with me. It has been a kind of family heirloom - my grandfather, father and my four brothers had all used it before it was handed down to me, the youngest in the family.
Those hours spent pedalling contributed in no small measure to developing my physique.
Sadly, now I do not find the time for cycling.
The only cycle I ride now is the one at my gym," he laughed.
For someone who is 35 years old, Dhanraj is amazingly fit.
"I pump iron almost as a routine. I put not just my body, but also my soul into a workout.
When I am not playing in a tournament, I sweat it out for five to six hours at the gym. I have always set great store by fitness, as I was an athlete once and also a footballer.
I have always been quick off my feet.
I consistently clock 11.1 seconds on the 100m track.
If you are fit you can considerably stretch your sell-by date.
The former Australian player Richard Charlesworth is testimony to that.
Speaking for myself, I have five years of top-level hockey left in me.
For the last eight years, I have been watching my diet. I have stayed away from red meat, and do not dare go beyond fish and chicken."
Speaking about speed on the hockey field, he modestly conceded that "Pakistan's Shahbaz Ahmed was quicker than I have ever been. But Mohammed Shahid's game defies comparison. He is an all-time great."
When asked about the "rough patch" that he is now going through in his career, he pretended not to have understood the question.
After a brief silence, he said diplomatically that at some point or the other every man would be in a situation where he would have to take the rough with the smooth.
Then he requested, "Skip this subject, please!"
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