Andhra Pradesh

Crisis-hit coach is prepared to wait COVID out to train his students again

His dream to win an Olympic gold medal for India shattered by a quirk of fate, athlete G. Hari Prasad of Madanapalle has later made it his life mission to train talented youngsters into champion athletes and help them get into the Indian armed forces.

However, his plans have hit a roadblock, as COVID-19 pandemic has brought all his activities to a halt, with no hope of revival in near future as the presumed third wave is looming large. But his spirit remains undeterred, and he is prepared to fight till the end.

Mr. Prasad stood first in both 5,000 and 10,000 metres (under-20) for four consecutive years (2006-10) in the All India Inter-University Athletics meet. He also emerged victorious in the Andhra Pradesh State Athletics Association meets five times during the same period. Having already marked the fourth place once in the national events, Mr. Prasad was confident of bagging an Olympic medal one day.

However, fate dealt a cruel blow to him in 2010. While on a cross-country near Kolleru lake, he suffered a serious ligament tear in one leg, which forced him out of action for several years. After completing his B.P.Ed in 2012, he had to abandon job search and return home to take care of his ailing mother. Poverty and compulsion turned the former athlete into a farmhand for five years.

“I may not run for the nationals or Olympics. But I can train many talented youth not only for athletic meets, but also to join India’s defence forces. This goal can never vanish from my mind and it will haunt me to the grave,” Mr. Prasad says.

Successful initiative

In 2018, he started Hari Defence Academy at Madanapalle with a batch of eight youths hailing from poor families in the Rayalaseema region. Six of them got into the Army. The success brought 18 enrolments in 2019 and all of them secured jobs – 16 in the Army and two in the Airforce. By 2019 September, Mr. Hari saw a surge in the aspirants and the enrolments jumped to 60.

In February 2020, however, he suffered a blow as defence selections were put off indefinitely owing to the COVID-19 pandemic and the classrooms of his academy, the playgrounds and the hilly terrains in and around Madanapalle went deserted.

Debt burden

In a span of two years, Mr. Prasad had to muster funds to the tune of ₹15 lakh to establish and maintain the academy. “Most students joining here are from poor families. Though I charged them ₹4,000 per month for boarding, lodging, indoor and outdoor training, and salaries to the staff, a large number of them could not afford it. But I never compelled them to pay. The training needs nutritious food too and I had to borrow funds from my friends and relatives to meet the shortfall. But COVID-19 drove away all my students,” laments Mr. Prasad.

For the last one and a half years, Mr. Prasad continues to be in distress to meet the ends. “But my determination to train talented youth will never get diluted. I am prepared to face any number of hungry nights. Good times will definitely come,” the spirited coach says.

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Printable version | Jul 6, 2022 4:27:52 am |