Five tribal youngsters from Maharashtra's Dhule district will run the Singapore Marathon this Sunday.
Harish Kotian finds out how they made it.
In what is the chance of a lifetime, five tribal youngsters from Maharashtra's Dhule district will run the Singapore Marathon this Sunday, December 3.
Handpicked and trained extensively by Shri Vile Parle Kelavani Mandal's Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies (SVKM-NMIMS), the youngsters hail from Shirpur taluka in Dhule district, north west Maharashtra.
The runners got their first taste of long distance running when they competed in the IDBI Half Marathon in Mumbai in August.
All the 19 boys and six girls from Shirpur who took part in that race ran barefoot. Following their encouraging showing, five of the 25 runners were picked to take part in the Singapore marathon.
The five youngsters who have been picked are: Narayan Pawara, 18; Somnath Pawara, 20; Jagan Pawara, 17; Ashwini Chaudhari, 17 and Chetana Patel, 17.
Navin Shetty, a keen sports enthusiast and vice-chairman, SVKM-NMIMS, is one of the champions of this initiative.
The primary goal, he says, is providing these tribal youngsters the infrastructure and facilities to pursue their sporting dreams.
The runners' parents do odd jobs on agricultural land and hence the youngsters need support to pursue their dreams further.
The youngsters are currently doing their graduation at the Shirpur Education Society college. "NMIMS has a big education institute in Shirpur, the Shirpur Educational Society, where underprivileged and tribal students study," says Shetty.
"When I visited Shirpur," Shetty -- who is also a managing committee member at the Mumbai Cricket Association -- tells Rediff.com, "I saw them running barefoot. They were running so well, so I thought why not give them a platform to do better?"
"I got them to Mumbai for the IDBI Half Marathon, and from them I selected the top three boys and two top girls for the Singapore Marathon," he adds.
"All these years they did not have access to facilities and infrastructure like children in cities have. I tell you, they can excel in sports; there is so much potential in them!" Shetty exclaims.
"That's why we have taken up their cause and will provide them everything to showcase their talent to the world."
"These five runners have been training for the last five months at our institute in Shirpur where they have a specialised running coach looking after them. They also have a dietician, nutritionist, fitness trainer and everything else required for them to improve," says Shetty.
"We have to thank Amrishbhai Patel, president, SVKM and his brother Bhupeshbhai Patel, joint-president, SVKM, for the initiative," he adds. "Without their help this would not have been possible. They have made a difference in the lives of these youngsters and given them hope of a bright future."
Accompanied by Shetty the youngsters flew to Singapore earlier this week. "They will be running with proper running shoes," says Shetty. "Skechers has kindly sponsored their shoes and kits."
"Arun Pandey of Rhiti Sports (the sports management company which represents Mahendra Singh Dhoni, K L Rahul and Bhuvneshwar Kumar) have also sponsored shoes, track pants, t-shirts and jackets for the youngsters," says Shetty.
"We met India's Deputy High Commissioner Ninad Deshpande who was excited to meet them," adds Shetty.
The runners got down to business as soon as they arrived in Singapore. They have been running on the streets of the island State from as early as 3 am.
The Singapore race, asserts Shetty, is just the beginning for these runners. "They exceeded all expectations in the Mumbai half marathon and we are planning bigger things for them. We aim to take around 10 children to the US next year to take part in a marathon there."
"Maybe, some of them will represent India at the highest level. Maybe, one day, they will make our country proud by winning a gold medal."