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The Indefatigable Spirit of a 100-year Old Marathoner: Fauja Singh




At 100 years old, Fauja Singh is a poster boy for indefatigable spirit. At an age most people would like to just reach, the Punjab-born Sikh-Briton is running marathons.

“God has given me this opportunity, and I feel blessed with this and enjoy running,” Fauja Singh said through an interpreter. “If I could run even when I'm dead, I'll try.”

He didn't run his first marathon until he was 89, and has since smashed one world age-class record after another - and shattered notions about aging along the way.

He will be gunning for the Guinness World Record for oldest marathoner when he runs the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon on October 16.

Recognizable by his turban and long white beard, he will run alongside 12 members of his London running club “Sikhs in the City.” There are no plans for added medical personnel.

“We do not need medical staff, trust me,” said Harmander Singh, the marathoner's coach, friend and sometimes-interpreter. “They couldn't keep up anyway.”

Fauja Singh, a vegetarian who carries just 115 pounds on his spindly five-foot-eight frame, has found fame in his fountain-of-youth quest.

He was featured in Adidas' “Impossible is Nothing” campaign. He's the subject of the biography, “Turbaned Torpedo,” which he can't read because he's illiterate. His Facebook page has over 16,000 members. And he received a congratulatory telegram from Queen Elizabeth on his 100th birthday in April.

Fauja Singh, who was born on a farm in rural Punjab, admits he loves the attention.

“I cannot think of anything bad about running at all, there's only good in it, because not only am I healthy, but I get the recognition that inspires me and motivates me to carry on,” he said.

“It's God's will what you're allowed to do and I feel that I'm blessed with this, I look forward to any target dates and when the next event is. I look forward to something like a child would. Like children you need the attention and running gives me that attention.”

Fauja Singh ran in his youth before taking a break from the sport that would last half a century. Following the deaths of his son and wife, he needed to find a new focus in his life and took up running, completing his first 20-kilometre race at age 88.

His debut in the gruelling 42.195-kilometre marathon was in 2000 in London, which he ran for BLISS - a charity for premature babies.

“We thought we could have a strapline: the oldest running for the youngest,” said Harmander Singh, who added the runner has raised thousands for various charities in his running career.

Fauja Singh finished the London race in six hours 54 minutes, knocking 54 minutes off the previous world record for his age.

He also holds the marathon world record for runners over 90, finishing in 5:40 at the 2003 Toronto Waterfront race, one of 11 world marks he holds in that age class.

He covers between 13 and 16 kilometres a day in training, alternating walking and running - the balance between the two shifting as the wheels of time turn. His only injury came when he tripped over the cables of a television camera. He claims the secret to his longevity is his diet of ginger curry and tea.

Fauja Singh, who said he doesn't consider himself old at all, has a message for elderly people, and North Americans in general.

“The first thing is to get rid of this notion that you're old,” he said. “The other thing is, some people die of starvation in some parts of the world, but in western countries people die of overeating. And they don't do enough exercise to burn it off. You eat to live, not live to eat.

“Many people have been inspired enough to get off their backsides, but I'd like more people to do that. It's one thing to say you're inspired, but another to prove it, to actually do something about it. My message to all elders is if you give up, it's going to give up on you.”

Three days before running the marathon in Toronto, Fauja Singh will attempt to set age-class records at almost every distance on the track up to 5,000 metres. Because there are no records for 100-year-olds, all he has to do is finish.

It's the same deal for the marathon. His coach said he's on pace to run about 6:50 in the marathon, but going out too fast carries the risk of not finishing.

“The record is to be the oldest runner, not the oldest fastest runner,” Harmander Singh said.

Canada boasts its own fleet-footed senior. Ed Whitlock, who turned 80 in March, has been smashing age-class world records in long-distance events, including shattering the world record for runners 80-84 in April.

Whitlock, from Milton, Ontario, will be racing to lower that record in Toronto next month.


[Courtesy: The Globe and Mail. Edited for]

September 30, 2011

Conversation about this article

1: Baldev Singh (Bradford, United Kingdom), September 30, 2011, 9:11 AM.

One extraordinary human and Sikh. Another ageless Sikh was, of course, Baba Deep Singh who, at 79, wielded a khanda weighing almost 40 pounds! We have thousands of role models we should be introducing to the rest of the world.

2: Panjab Singh (Yuba City, California, U.S.A.), September 30, 2011, 7:42 PM.

Has Punjab, the motherland of Sardar Fajua Singh, ever properly recognized this great son of the soil?

3: Harinder (Uttar Pradesh, India), October 01, 2011, 2:28 PM.

Sir, we all love you and we want you to double up your records. 1) Do a double Marathon. 2) Run till 200 years of age and certainly thereafter too and may be forever. 3) Do a marathon run in each and every country of the world and may be even every city. That's my dream! Balley balley!

4: Harinder (Uttar Pradesh, India), October 02, 2011, 12:21 AM.

A trophy should be established in your name: "The Eternal Runner".

5: Harpreet Singh (Delhi, India), October 02, 2011, 3:45 PM.

Congratulations. The achievements of this great Sikh and other great Sikhs like him who keep their Sikhi intact and also follow the instructions of our Gurus, are an inspiration for all of us to live a simple, disciplined, healthy life. "Gurmukh buddhey kaddey nahi ..." - Gurmukhs never grow old.

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