A roughly three-and-a-half-hour ride from Mettupalayam under the Neelgiri Mountain Railway in Tamil Nadu takes you to the scenic hill station of Wellington. Located amid vivid green backdrop the station is quite popular among the tourists and is a special attraction for filmmakers for its majestic beauty.
However, since the outbreak of Covid-19, the imposed lockdown has disrupted the train services and the footfall of tourists has also virtually stopped. Taking advantage of the deserted railway station, a group of state and national level athletes from Tamil Nadu are using the premises as their training ground for the last four months.
Athletes busy training at the Welling Station (Source: Mohamed Azarudeen)
Two group of athletes, including Sreekiran Nandakumar, who won 800m gold at the U-20 Eurasian athletics meet in Kazakhstan last year, use the station for their strength training. The platform comes into play during endurance training sessions and the 5-km hilly road leading to the station is used for long-distance runs. Apart from Sreekiran, the other prominent athlete in the group is Mujamil Ameer, who won 800m bronze at the senior Nationals last year.
Sreekiran doing strength training (Source: Mohamed Azarudeen)
In a conversation with The Bridge, Mohamed Azarudeen, who has been the coach and mentor to these athletes, said, "The police didn't give us the access to the ground for maintaining social distancing. We have been using this station as the training ground since the start of the lockdown. The players are mostly from their hometown. Three of the athletes from other districts haven't gone home and instead chose to train with us."
The training happens in two sessions with different level of athletes training. "We start in the morning we start at 7 AM and wind up around 9.3beginnersin the evening we start at around 6 PM and finish it off by 6:30 PM. The juniors and begineers take part in the evening session, while the seniors are involved in the morning session. Total 15 athletes were there, few have left home, while 10 of them are training with me," said Azarudeen. He adds, "All the trains have stopped and players say they can train peacefully. We had a lot of things planned, including the Junior World Championships in 400m and 800m race, also hoping Sreekiran would make it to the Olympics. Sreekiran's cut-off date has also changed."
Sreekiran with Azarudeen
Azarudeen had spoken about his potent dreams of opening his own Academy and promoting home-grown talent in athletics, little did he know that success would come knocking on his door so soon. Exhilarated at how brilliant the last two years have been for him, Mohamed Azarudeen, who is now the youngest level-2 coach in the field of athletics in the country is a torchbearer for the future generation of athletes.