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Energizer Fauja Singh: He Keeps Going, Going, Going ...

by MANPREET KAUR SINGH

 

 

He may only be 5 ft 8 in tall (173 cms) and may only weigh 52kg (114 pounds) but Sardar Fauja Singh is a giant in stature and a heavyweight by any measure.

The oldest marathoner in the world has just celebrated his 100th birthday and can't wait to run his next race. Reluctant to take any credit for his amazing achievements (he set five separate world records in the space of 90 odd minutes, to name just one of his astonishing feats), he'd make the perfect role model for all those brazen young sporting stars who let success go to their heads.

"Its God's wish that he gave me this long life, kept me on the right track, and made me do what I did," Fauja Singh said unassumingly.

Whilst a billion people were caught in the crazed frenzy of the Cricket World Cup, Fauja Singh received a royal message from Queen Elizabeth II, congratulating him on his personal century on April 1, 2011. When I called to speak to him just a few days later, I was pleasantly surprised by how alert, active and coherent he was, for someone who had just turned 100.

He further stunned me by telling me, "I've been excited since last night when I found out that you will call me from Australia for an interview. I'm so happy. A friend offered to drive me here (his coach's house) to receive your call, but I refused. I walked two miles and made it in time to talk to you. I'm so happy you've called and really thank you".

I asked Fauja Singh about the secret of his longevity, which we could all use as authoritative advice, and he responded, "I don't worry about what happens around me. I don't get into arguments, don't get angry and don't get offended. I think simple, eat simple and live simply."

I had arranged this interview through Fauja Singh's coach, Harmander Singh and asked the latter about his student. His responses were succinct, but nevertheless very descriptive.

Q:  As his trainer, how do you describe him?
A:  Great company!

Q:  How is he as an individual?
A:  Balanced.

Q:  How would you describe him as an athlete?
A: Enthusiastic and always keen to improve ... very determined.

Q:  And in person?
A:  Jovial.

And I couldn't agree with Harmander more. Fauja Singh's laughter is infectious, his simplicity is charming, his enthusiasm is inspiring and his childish innocence is disarming. I remarked that he must have been a naughty child while growing up and he said, "Yes, I was very naughty and I haven't changed one bit."

He went on, "Since my childhood, I loved all sports - football, cricket, kabaddi and kho. I like taking photos with famous sportsmen". He told me he has pictures with David Beckham, Harbhajan Singh and many other sporting heroes.

I asked him what he would like to do from here on and he said, "I want to do so much but my family around the world keep stopping me."

I remarked that he seems unstoppable, to which he said, "Absolutely ... nothing stops me", much like the slogan of Adidas, the company that chose him as the public face of their advertising campaign a few years ago. The slogan was: "Just do it".

Fauja Singh added: "A person should always think ahead and have a dream. One should never lose heart. Its a matter of attitude - some people can stop living even before they die while others live on even after their death".

Fauja Singh ran his first ever marathon aged 89; his son had tragically died in India and he had moved to England (where his other son lived), to recover from the loss. One thing led to another and he ran the London marathon in the year 2000. As he said to me in his interview, "When I left India for England, I didn't intend to run in marathon races. I'm a simple, uneducated man. I was working hard in India, just raising my six children. But sometimes, when you receive a major setback in life, God inspires you to do something more. A person can't motivate himself, only God inspires him. I'm lucky that He gave me a long life, kept me away from greed and other vices, and showed me the way forward."

Extremely proud of his Sikh identity and usually sporting a ‘kesri' turban with a ‘khanda' during his races, Fauja Singh is convinced that "if I didn't have a turban and a beard, no one would have noticed me. I've received so much fame and attention because of how I look. He went on to add, "I ran in New York (soon after the 9/11 attacks) and many people advised me not to run wearing a turban. Some people said I could be killed. But I refused to listen and ran wearing my turban," he says with simple conviction.

I asked him about his childhood and youth, whether he remembered the time when the British ruled India. He said, "Of course, I was a strapping young lad of 35, when the British left India". And when I joked that the roles have reversed, since he now ‘rules' England, he laughed heartily. I asked him if he remembered running
the Toronto marathon in 2004 and setting the record for finishing it at 5 hours 40 seconds. He responded, "I've run in Toronto, both 13 miles and 26 miles, I've run 7 miles with the Dalai Lama."

I asked him, "Have you ever given up? Has a race ever become too much for you?" He responded, "I never give up. I just gather all my courage and don't think about anything else", adding, "People around the world love me. White people, black people, Indians, Pakistanis, everyone. See, you have called me from so far - Australia. I'm very happy."

 

An official biography of Fauja Singh, titled "Turbaned Tornado" will soon be released in London, U.K., (at the House of Lords) on July 7, 2011. It's written by Khushwant Singh of Chandigarh, Punjab, who has been following Fauja Singh for a decade now. He had featured him in his earlier book "Sikhs Unlimited" as well. 

To hear the full interview with Fauja Singh by the author, please CLICK here.

 

April 20, 2011

Conversation about this article

1: I.J. Singh (New York, U.S.A.), April 20, 2011, 7:35 AM.

Wonderful. Absolutely the stuff role models are made of.

2: Dildeep Singh Dhillon & Nicola Mooney (British Columbia, Canada), April 20, 2011, 3:34 PM.

Fauja Singh ji, you are an inspiration to us all. May the wind always be at your back, as the Irish saying goes.

3: Bibek Singh (Jersey City, U.S.A.), April 20, 2011, 3:54 PM.

Last Sunday, our local gurdwara in Jersey City celebrated Vaisakhi. On this occasion, the committee released its annual magazine. This year's edition has a new section titled 'Proud to be a Sikh'. Sardar Fauja Singh is one among twelve who have been covered in that section. Please read the full magazine at 'http://www.nnjgurudwara.com/' (P-39). May he live long and healthy! He's such a great inspiration.

4: Kulbir Singh (Canberra, Australia), July 02, 2011, 3:40 AM.

I have been reading again and again, and don't feel like stopping. I must thank Manpreet for giving us this story in very simple but heart penetrating language, to follow the young man of 100 years of age. The number 101 is auspicious in our cultural tradition. So, I will run with the young man next year when he turns 101.

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