Revelling in the aura of shuttler PV Sindhu’s bronze win at the World Championships and the box-office exploits of Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, it is easy to overlook the fact that India is still far from becoming a force to reckon with in the sporting arena. But extraordinary achievers like Abasaheb Gaikwad continue to hold out hope.
The 34-year-old conductor from Maharashtra State Regional Transport Corporation’s Atpadi ST depot in Sangali district created history by winning two gold medals in javelin and discus throw at the Torino 2013 Masters Games held at Turin, Italy, between August 2 and August 11.
Astonishingly, Gaikwad accomplished this stunning feat without any coaching or professional training. The bus conductor hails from a poor family that virtually lives hand to mouth in the drought-affected district, had boarded the flight to Italy on July 31, without much expectations “I have been participating in various tournaments in the country and last year managed to clear the qualifying matches at Kerala Masters Athletic Games and got the opportunity to partake in the Turin event,” said Gaikwad.
Sangli MSRTC depot officials and colleagues of Gaikwad extended their support the athlete and offered financial assistance to make his Italian dream come true. Gaikwad told MiD DAY that last year, he and a colleague from the same depot, Nivas Raskar, got the chance to go to the Asia Masters Athletics Championship, which was supposed to be organised in Taipei in November 2012. However, owing to some technical reasons, the games got cancelled.
“I however continued my practice sessions, juggling them with my job as conductor at depot, and later participated in the qualifying games at Kerala,” he said. The medallist said when he was in std IX, his father suffered a paralysis attack and became bedridden. Gaikwad realised then that he would have to take up the breadwinner’s mantle.
“After completing my HSC, I joined MSRTC as a conductor, and was happy that the department gave me every opportunity to explore my talents,” he said, adding, “Before going to Italy and winning the two gold medals in javelin and discus throw in the 31-35 age group, I had participated in several tournaments at the district, state and national level and bagged 15 medals and several certificates.” Since his partaking was a private affair there was no official support from the department. However, his depot manager and colleagues collected money within the division to finance his excursion.
“My neighbours from Shetjale village in Atpadi taluka contributed Rs 1.75 lakh, and the department too donated Rs 50,000. Additionally, I took some loan to bear the expenses of the trip,” he said. Gaikwad added that the Masters Athletics Federation of India, which is the apex body, too extended its guidance in visa and other administrative formalities. Apart from monetary support, the depot manager saw the potential in Gaikwad and allotted him favourable shifts so he could allocate more time to practice. “I am really grateful to Rahul Toro, the then district regional controller with MSRTC here, who personally encouraged me for the games,” the athlete said.
A proud boss
Toro, who has recently been promoted as regional manager and transferred to Mumbai division, said that his entire department is proud of Gaikwad. “Such extraordinary talents should be nurtured,” Toro said. “There is no provision in the department to give financial help in such matters, but we managed this at the personal level. Unfortunately, there is no stipulation in the department in terms of internal promotions, as this was a completely private pursuit of the employee,” he regretted.
About 25 athletes from the nation participated in the games, in which 60 countries partook. India managed to bag 11 medals in different categories -- two golds, two silvers and seven bronzes.
Rs 2.25 lakh Total amount donated by Gaikwad's neighbours and colleagues