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Fauja Singh Smashes A Century


1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
London-based marathon running wonder becomes 100-years-old today

India's master blaster, Sachin Tendulkar missed out on his hundredth ton in the India vs Pak semi-final on Wednesday, out on 85 after a couple of 'lives'. On another continent, a world famous Sikh marathoner smashed a century of a different kind today.

Fauja Singh shows impressive style as he does what he knows best run

London-based marathon runner Fauja Singh, who set several records in his 90 years plus age group in the world before he officially 'retired' from marathon running when he was 94, becomes 100-years-old today.

Fauja Singh's son, Sukhjinder Singh speaking on the phone from London confirmed, "Yes, my father becomes 100-years old, on Friday, April 1. We are planning a small celebration at home, with family. Nothing very elaborate, just a heartwarming party and my wife is going to bring home the cake today (Thursday) evening." The family lives in the Seven Kings area of Essex (London).

Sukhjinder, who owns a bathroom and plumbing store adds, "My father has retired from full marathon (42 km) running some time ago. Yet, even at 100, he is in fairly good health and very active. He undertakes walks of two-three miles with kids to encourage a love for nature, sport and healthy habits in youngsters. At 100, I can say, he is still loves being outdoors and is quiet fit."

Fauja has two sons and two daughters. Sukhjinder's brother Harminder Singh, Fauja's son lives in Punjab. One of Fauja's daughters is in Vancouver (Canada). The family expects a special message from the Queen today. The Queen had felicitated the turbaned wonder on December 7, 2005, at a Christmas reception at the Buckingham Palace in London for, "making a significant national contribution to public life." As the family parties today, Fauja will have no problem blowing out 100 candles on that cake. The 42-km runner must have great lungs like all long distance runners do.

Fauja achieved iconic status in Britain because of his running exploits. He was even contacted by the Stanchart Mumbai marathon committee to participate in the event to be held on January 16, 2005 but he could not for some reason. His former coach and manager, Ilford-based Harmander Singh told authorities that the Sikh who has been running the 42-km (full marathon) and 21 km (half-marathon) distances since a decade, retired from marathon running, when he was 94.

Harmander had said six years earlier, "As a responsible manager looking after Fauja's health, I have retired Fauja from marathon running as he is now 94. There is nothing to prove, really, as Fauja has already broken the world record for the over-90s in the 42-km distance clocking 5 hours and 40 minutes in the Toronto Waterfront Marathon last year."

This incredible running machine had not hung up his running shoes even then. After the marathon, Fauja was preparing for 10-km races, aiming to break the over-90 world record in that distance category. Harmander had said about Fauja who has become a figure of pride and inspiration in Britain, "I am now training him for the 10-km distance. The world record for over 90s currently hovers at 68 minutes, we are hoping to break that."

Even at 94, Fauja was so eager to learn more that he adapted to the new training routine set by his coach Harmander. The coach was putting the 94-year-old through speed work and hill training in his quest for glory at the shorter distance. "The main problem here is that Fauja is starting a little slowly, so I am working on picking up his speed at the start. He takes two miles to warm up but the 10,000m is only six miles so he needs a quick start!" Harmander had laughed.

When a 94-year-old man runs marathons, he makes news beyond timings, speed and starts. Fauja, has, most fully embodied the never-say-die spirit, becoming a symbol of grit and determination, with his shadow falling beyond the Ilford track and terrain on which he trains. His coach had said, "Because of the huge publicity that Fauja receives, he is now a recognisable face all over Britain and beyond too. I am training Fauja only, but he is so inspiring that people of all ages run along with him and we have now become an informal running club. This running club includes some Asian elderly women too who have been inspired to start running hearing about Fauja!"

Fauja earned renown and was invited to several global events but at his age he has had to sift through and be choosy about what to attend though he does not like to turn down requests. After a reception at the Buckingham Palace in 2005, Fauja flew out to Kenya to inspire the finest distance runners in the world.
Some years ago, Fauja was sponsored by Adidas, and became the sports giants poster boy along with football greats like Zinedine Zidane, boxing legend Muhammad Ali and cricket's biggest name, Sachin Tendulkar.

Fauja, when he was running, raised money and was involved in charity work for BLISS (a charity for premature babies). Adidas provided Fauja with his running kit and also donated to BLISS. Fauja had said to English newspapers about his support to BLISS, "I like the idea about the oldest helping the youngest." Fauja's biggest contribution to humanity has been his spirit, every footfall of the 90-year-old marathoner who is now 100 and "who liked to win" spoke of indefatigable will and kindled fires in people who thought that if Fauja can do it, so could they.

Fauja has never come down for the Mumbai marathon, but the runner who began his running career at 89 had sent a message for all Mumbai marathoners in 2009. He had said these soul-stirring words at that time, " I would like to wish everyone taking part the best of luck and hope that they all enjoy the experience of joining the small set of individuals, who have reached a level of human achievement that sets them apart from those who just dream. I am happy to see people attempt and participate in a race such as the Mumbai Marathon as it brings all communities together. The camaraderie amongst runners of all abilities is unique and to be treasured. It is a greater achievement to try than to find reasons not to try."

Fauja was part of the New York marathon run just four weeks after his Toronto effort, a couple of years ago. In New York though, Fauja was part of a group of Sikhs who used the race to make a statement. They ran to prove to people that Sikhism was a different faith from Islam; Sikhs had a different identity from Muslims. (Sikhs had been mistaken for Muslims in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks on USA. A Sikh had lost his life after he was shot dead, allegedly mistaken for a Muslim in the 9/11 aftermath). Harmander had said, "We wanted to raise awareness of Sikhs as a different community." It had been reported that when Fauja ran, there were shouts of Bin laden, Bin Laden from the crowd though he refused to comment on this, simply telling a website that he was "not upset" by the shouts.

The Mumbai marathon in progress with runners on the Bandra to Worli Sea Link

Today, as Fauja turns 100 he espouses most fully Welsh poet Dylan Thomas's immortal lines he wrote for his dying father:

"Rage, rage against the dying of the light; But do not go gentle into that goodnight."

which means fighting and not giving in to the physical frailties of age. Who better than Fauja, who used to run the 42-km in a timing that would make men half his age blush, to illustrate that?

Fauja fact file

Fauja Singh, born in India is based in Essex, Ilford in England

Fauja Singh was born on April 1, 1911 and was an amateur runner in the Punjab before giving up the sport in 1947 at the age of 36.

When his wife died and Singh moved to London to live with his youngest son and decided to don the trainers and pound the streets again.

He had formerly endorsed the Adidas brand. Fauja's face was one of the visages in the Adidas campaign running overseas, standing next to other immortals like Muhammad Ali and footballer Zinedine Zidane.

Fauja used to be associated with a charity called BLISS, a charity for premature babies He has said to English newspapers about his support to BLISS, "I like the idea about the oldest helping the youngest."

Fauja attributes his success to ginger dal, "curries" he used to call them, sending the English press into paroxysm of delight. His coach Harmander Singh says: "Fauja eats very little and drinks nothing stronger than water." Fauja is reported to have said, "My diet is simple phulka (chappati), dal (lentils), green vegetables, yoghurt and milk. I do not touch parathas, pakoras, rice or any other fried food. I take lots of water and tea with ginger."

He was contacted by the Stanchart Mumbai marathon committee to participate in the event to be held on January 16, 2005 but could not make it.

Fauja was felicitated by the Queen at the Buckingham Palace in London on December 7, 2005, at a Christmas reception for, "making a significant national contribution to public life."

Fauja was invited for the debut Mumbai marathon run in February. The race was too close to the London marathon. At Fauja's age it was not easy to run in two marathons. The travel too, would have taken a toll on him. Fauja was already committed to run the London event beforehand and could not come to Mumbai.



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