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Football to sprinting overcoming bullies, stutter — Amlan Borgohain is ready for more

"Back in school days, people used to bully me due to the stutter," Amlan opened up in a conversation with The Bridge.

Amlan Borgohain

Amlan Borgohain (amlan_borgohain/Instagram)


Rajdeep Saha

Parashar Kalita

Published: 18 April 2023 3:12 PM GMT

It was business as usual for India's fastest man Amlan Borgohain as he swept the men's 100m and 200m events in both the Indian Grand Prix 3 and 4 over the last week at the Kanteerava Stadium in Bangalore.

While Amiya Mallick pushed him to his best in the 100m sprint at the IGP 3, Borgohain coasted to victory in rest of the three events.

With his constant improvement in the track over the years, the 24-year-old has emerged as India's next big sprinting hope. Even as Amlan continues to impress on track on a daily basis, the numerous struggles he has endured have often gone unnoticed.

One such struggle has been the sprinter's speech impairment.

While Amlan's speech has not been as smooth as his sprints with a stutter, the youngster has grown to accept it as it is, despite some harrowing memories attached to it.

"Back in school days, people used to bully me due to the stutter," Amlan opened up in a conversation with The Bridge.

"In 2020, due to the Covid-19 situation, people were finding their own things. I was training and finding mine. I just accepted it, because the first major thing in life is to accept what you have. My brother has also told me that it is not my problem that I stammer, it's the problem of the people how they perceive it. So, it's fine," he added.

His coach James Hillier echoes that he never had to help the sprinter in dealing with this aspect.

"It's (the stammering) not something we ever discussed. It's not a problem. All things said and done, people will remember whether Amlan was a good person. It does not matter whether he has got a stammer, it does not matter whether he has a leg longer than the other. To a certain extent, it doesn't matter how fast he runs. All that matters is that he's a good person," the coach said.

"One thing I am very proud of is when he went back to his university and delivered a talk in front of a thousand people, told his story. He could have never done that before he came to us, never could have dreamed of doing that," he added.

Hillier goes a step further and attributes the surge in Amlan's confidence, ability to handle his past struggles to his performance on the track.

"Absolutely, the two things are linked. The discipline which came with athletics gave him that confidence, and now he knows that he can do anything. He can be vulnerable, because when you are at the start line, you are very vulnerable, and he has learned to be that."

"Reliance foundation has helped me a lot, from basic needs to the exposure for an athlete. The main thing is that they believed in me, and that's the positive thing I get from them. They are my backbone here," he said.

The brave and the curious

James Hillier, apart from being the Director of Athletics of the Reliance Foundation, is also a mentor and guardian to the likes of Amlan and Jyothi Yarraji. Borgohain describes his relationship with James as something quite simple, based on communication.

"My coach always likes his athletes to think. We all sit together, and then he asks me 'Amlan, tell me how you will run faster?' I then tell him that I want to do this or that. He has the expertise in the sprint events, and we make plans accordingly. We talk very less. If he is not talking to me, that is the reason why I am running fast. This is the nature of our relationship," Borgohain let out a laugh.

James still remembers the young boy he saw about three and a half years ago and what made him stand out from the crowd.

"We have been working together full time for about three years, I have known him for a little bit longer. I was very impressed with him and he stood out from the crowd because of his natural physicality," he recalled.

"The other thing was that he was very curious. He is always asking questions, wanting to learn and improve himself. That time, I did not know how well he'd turn out, but I knew he could with the right coaching," the coach added.

When Hillier took Amlan under his wing, the first thing which the coach wanted to get right was the sprinter's basic education.

"For Amlan, it was all about education. How to train properly, how to think like an athlete, how to be one, is very much about education. You have to be smart, not in Math and English, but have a high level of emotional intelligence, be a student of your own event."

In India, those coming from downtrodden and underprivileged backgrounds have the higher proclivity towards achieving something more, while some might just be content with whatever they have. Athletes like Amlan were brave enough to get out of their comfort zone and strive for excellence.

"Amlan changed his job because he thought it would affect him, and not many people in India, who are from humble backgrounds, would give up such comfortable jobs. That is brave, and Amlan is very brave, and I respect him for that," James praised.

While becoming the fastest man of India can bring about certain changes in a person, both off and on the field, James believes that Amlan is still that curious boy, asking questions, yet he has become more refined for the better.

"He's the same, but at the same time he's different. He's developed his confidence over the years, and now he's a role model for people. He's really humble, wants to help people, just a lovely guy," James concluded.

Borgohain truly is an inspiration for those who wish to do anything in their lives, not only running.

"It's not just about running, it's about doing what you feel like. You will be the loser on day 1, day 2, day 3, but someday you will win. Speaking for myself, I don't have the physique of a sprinter but I am the fastest man, so just do the hard work, and do it in the right way," Amlan said.

Missing home and the love for football

Constantly training at the High Performance Centre in Odisha, thanks to Reliance Foundation, means that Amlan is away from home more often than not. But, he believes that the faster he runs, the happier his family gets.

"Yeah I do miss home. I always think that if I am running fast here, my family will be happy there. Back home, it's like home you know. You can not change anything," Amlan smiled.

"Each and every family has struggles, but yeah my father and my mother did their best. They never said no to me, but told me that it will take time, and that they will do it. That's what kept me going," he added.

The Bridge reached out to Amlan's father, Subedar Major BC Borgohain. The former army man shed some light on how his son got into the world of sports, and how he had a part to play.

“Amlan had always been interested in sports as I was in the army and there is the atmosphere of sports in the army. He has been watching all kinds of sports since he was a child and I think that is why he got interested in playing football in the first place," the father said.

“His first choice was football," he continued.

In his school days at the Kendriya Vidyalaya, Amlan was selected to play zonal football. One day a friend of his elder brother showed him an advertisement for an athletics app in a newspaper and asked him to shift to athletics.

He was good at running on the football field and something lit up inside a young Amlan when he saw the advertisement. Once he consulted his family, there was no holding back.

"Go as you like," is what the father relayed to his younger son when sought his advice on the switch of sports.

It has been years since Amlan Borgohain made the switch to athletics and it has by far proven to be the best decision of the youngster's career.

"He has a stronger bond with his mother and has always been the apple of her eye. He has a slight stuttering issue, but no matter what the obstacles, no matter what someone says, no one can stop Amlan from achieving his goal, he knows what he wants to do and is clear about it," Major Borgohain concluded.

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