Young at 78

JOHN DEVASIR clocked 15.5 seconds in the 100 metres event at an Asian athletics meet in Bangalore in the year 2000. A pathetically pedestrian performance, you might sneer. Wait a minute! Devasir is 78 years old and the sports meet in question is the Asian Athletics Meet for Veterans 2000. He was placed second in the 100-metre dash, high jump and 80-metre hurdles in his category. He cleared 1.15 metres in the high jump event and covered the 80-m hurdles in 18.2 seconds.

It must be clear now that John Devasir is punching more than his weight. After all, how many senior citizens feel inclined to "brisk-walk" 100 metres, let alone dash across it. But John Devasir's achievement is special for totally different reasons. He is diabetic. And for his height (he stands five feet eleven inches in his socks) he could be called underweight. He weighs 60 kg. "For the last 15 years I have weighed somewhere between 60 and 62 kg," says Devasir.

Despite these factors, he is fit as a fiddle. That is wholly due to a ruthless exercise regimen. Though living in Ayyapakkam in North Chennai, he is a regular at the Nandanam YMCA. Every day, he trains from 5.45 a.m. to 8 a.m. The physical training includes jogging, stretching, striding and working out. He is grateful to Natarjan, Director, ISPA, for the training programme. Thanks to this physical discipline, he has been able to keep his diabetes under control.

Devasir has, since childhood, never failed to turn his hand (or leg) at any sport when opportunity presented itself to him. He was the captain of the football team of St. John's College, Palayamkottai. When he joined the police, he distinguished himself in badminton and volleyball. Little did he know then that volleyball was equipping him with skills required for high jump. Even after retirement from the police as DSP and joining a private company as its security officer, he did not hang up his volleyball spikes.

But destiny weaned Devasir away from the volleyball court. In 1997, he attended a prayer meeting, presided over by J. Selvaraj. Learning of Devasir's interest in sports, Selvaraj suggested that he take part in sports for veterans. Devasir took the suggestion to heart. He competed in the State athletics meet for veterans at Madurai; and in 1998 he went to Mumbai to participate in the national meet being held there.

His family has been abundantly supportive of him. They understand his fetish for fitness and practice, as "sportsmanship" runs in the family. His son, a senior auditor in the Post and Telegraph Department, is good at long jump. And both his daughters used to be sportswomen. One was good at javelin and the other in the 100-metre sprint. Both of them landed plum jobs through sports quota.

No life is free of regrets. Devasir's regret is his inability to participate in the Asian athletics meet in Dalian City, China, early this year. "It would have cost me at least Rs. 75,000, just to go there. I could ill-afford such a sum. As I could not find a sponsor, I had to pull back, though I was selected for the meet," says Devasir.

You can meet John Devasir at 25, Om Shakthi Street, Ayyapakkam, Chennai-77 or call him on 6250506.