The hair is gray and the skin is wrinkled - but they are likely to defy the law of gravity for more than a moment at a time. Because the mere passing of a few years doesn’t mean it will bring one’s sporting pursuits to an untimely end, an athletics coach I once interviewed had put it right. ‘Peak age’ is always somehow looming in sports. Age is no bar. Or a simple state of mind. Or maybe, only a number. But if one is to perform on a sporting stage with numerous eyeballs watching on, he would not mock at the ageing process and make light of its ravages in an athlete, only unless his name is Parag Patil.
Having embarked upon an international sports career at the age of 30, only a few could have predicted just how integral Patil would become to the narrative of athletic competitions at this age. The 41-year-old has won multiple laurels for the country till date, in 100m run, Triple Jump, and Long Jump. His commitment to the sports realm has been unwavering, even despite holding a day job as a salesman.
Struggle To Succeed
Having bagged a total of 12 medals till date, his unbounded energy bears the consequence of his passion. Coincidentally, running for the bus in order to get home during school developed into proper running training. “There was just one bus that travelled to my home from that bus stop. My school bailed at 5:30 PM and this bus used to depart at 5:35. Being from a humble background, this was my only option. I used to run so hard to catch that bus. It was literally a km sprint. I had just 5 minutes to cover the distance. At times, I used to even run behind the bus to the next stop. This is how I began running,” Patil told Kreedon.com, reliving the moments from years long-gone-by.
However, the journey hasn’t always been smooth for the Chinchwad resident. Failures crept up, Patil put aside the disappointments that came along with attempting something worthy and great. He had a slew of hardships to make when he initially started out. But, isn’t that what makes his pursuit all the more worthwhile? Definitely, yes. “While registration, they fooled me that I’ve been registered for the event using a carbon copy of the form. I had to run back to school just before the event and enrol all over again. This helped boost my confidence that the guys who trained at the very same club are scared of my competition…”, he reminisced.
But they said it right. The talent pathway is no less than a rocky road to the top. “I wake up at 5.30 am after going to bed after 11 pm,” he told TOI. “I train for at least four hours a day in two sessions --- first, at Indrayani Nagar at Bhosari, and then at Pradhikaran ground, Nigdi, under Sanjay Kale sir. This, besides my regular job of selling outdoor gym equipment due to which my food intake is irregular. If some sponsor gives me Rs 45,000 a month, I can concentrate just on training and giving rest to my body. My performance is bound to go up," he added.
Financial Disability? Fight Back Like A Champion!
The odds have not been in his favour, as he was brought up in a poor family. He would run barefoot, fretted at the lack of infrastructure for him to latch onto - and he would end up sustaining injuries from nails and glass cuts. Economic strain stampeded young Patil during the initial years of his training, limiting his chances to shine through. Realising that he cannot meet the expenses of sustaining a sports career, he dedicated his youth to coaching athletes for some time, aged only 18 years.
So, is the lack of opportunities in our gift to transform ourselves into superheroes? Or is it that we are much more likely to face a grim process of decline and decay? Patil fought, and succeeded. He recalls how he had to pivot on a loan at the interest rate of 17% per month in order to be able to keep his Senior Olympic dreams alive. “I did not get any support or reward for my achievements after returning back to India. All my earnings were spent in the interest and loan repayment for the next few months. All I ate was tea, biscuit and cream roll thrice a day for that period,” he avered, low in spirits.
Patil’s exceptional deeds will appeal not only to those who tend to get mistily sentimental over petty failures but to ones who know that victory over time is the hardest of all for any athlete. Delicate skills can plummet fast and far. Legs can disobey. The mindset may desert the athlete suddenly. But here is Patil, with a success that more often than not highlights the rare quality of durability that underlined careers of people his age. But, he continues. To fight back, to live again.