ATHLETICS Saleem Shaikh and G.K. Vijayakumari are surely going to make it big with their dedication
They hail from the villages and are full of raw talent and passion. They came to the Sports Authority of India in Bangalore a year and a half ago, almost at the same time, with hope and expectation. Today, both Saleem Shaikh and G.K. Vijayakumari are champion material. While Saleem is the National boys’ under-20 champion in the 200 metres, the little-made Vijayakumari won the 400 m gold and the 200 m silver in the girls’ under-18 section at the recently concluded 29th Junior National athletics championships at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium in Bangalore. Their coach from the beginning at the SAI, Dr. Lakshmeesha, has words of praise for the two.
“Their dedication and simplicity are what brought me close to them. They come from very poor backgrounds and speak no language except Kannada, but I saw the fire in their eyes. There was this spark to excel, to rise above their poverty and make a name for themselves and their families.”
Saleem’s story is one of hardship. “My Abbu (Haaji Saab) is polio-afflicted and a heart patient. But he saw me doing well in the running races in our village, Athani in Belgaum district, and encouraged me to take it up as a career.” Today, Saleem is a pre-university student at the Vokkaligara Sangha College in Srigandhada Kavalu and more importantly going all out to achieve glory on the track. "My coach has been very encouraging and understanding. He has pushed me to succeed at every meet and my success has been a testimony to his dedication," says Saleem.
“I have a big family back home and every success I get and every bit of prize money I get is sent to Abbu and Ammi (Haseena Bi)." Saleem says he is under 18, which is what his birth certificate and other documents state, although the Education Department erred and mentioned him as 1994-born, thus rendering him a 19-year-old.
“This was not a deterrent and a clerical error cannot stop a true talent. He has proven that he is a winner even in a higher age group,” says Dr. Lakshmeesha proudly.
Saleem has been doing well in both the 100 m and the 200 m, but he opts for the longer sprint. “I love to run on the curves, and that seems to be my strength as well. So I prefer the 200m to the shorter sprint although I have been trying my hand at both. I did 22.0 at the trials here two weeks ago,” says Saleem, who clocked 22.26 at the Nationals for the gold. "I am happy with the gold, but I will have to work even harder on improving my timing," he adds.
Vijakumari hails from a district closer to Bangalore, a village from Mandya. “I loved to run right from an early age, but I ran without any guidance or a systematic approach as I could not afford a coach. Coach (Dr. Lakshmeesha) sir has been very supportive and encouraging. He makes us feel like his own children and goes out of his way to ensure we are comfortable and healthy. I have been with him for over one and a half years now and I have learnt a lot and become confident about my abilities. I want to win medals for India at International meets too,” says the chirpy Vijayakumari, prompted with inputs from a bunch of fellow trainees.
Vijayakumari was part of the Indian contingent to China for the Asian youth athletics there but thanks to an administrative mess up could not participate. “In fact the Indian team went there with an under-18 team for a meet which was meant for under-17s and thus I could not participate (and not as mentioned in the media due to an overage problem).”
“But what we underwent on our return was a horrific experience,” says Vijayakumari. “We returned to Delhi and had nowhere to go. Somehow, we managed to stay in a hotel, with most of us bundled together. Our return from Delhi to Bangalore was even more painstaking as there were no reservations and no one to guide or help us. It was an Army-man -- a good Samaritan and a coach -- who called up our parents and brought us safely from Delhi to Bangalore, looking after us and even feeding us after coach sir assured him that he would be reimbursed. Obviously, nobody else was bothered by our plight,” she added. Vijayakumari has been dipping below 58 seconds in the 400 m in her age category
Dr. Lakshmeesha hopes that the two will do well and get the recognition they deserve, but for now it’s for them to make winning a habit and leave the rest to God.
“I love to run on the curves, and that seems to be my strength”