On Sunday, turbanned Tornado Fauja Singh bid goodbye to competitive running. He raced in a 10-km run in Hong Kong and then hung up his running sneakers, saying he would not run professionally any longer.
Just for the record, this UK-based Sikh is 101 years old (talk about retiring late in life). He now says he will just run for fun and fitness. Here are some quick facts about the legendary Sikh, who has proved such an inspirational figure to so many across the world -- enthusiastic, amateur runners and non-runners alike.
>> Fauja Singh, born in India, is based in Essex, Ilford in England. He 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. After his wife died, Fauja moved to London in 1992, leaving Biaspind near the Jallandhar-Pathankot Rd. to live with his youngest son. He decided to don the trainers and pound the streets again.
>> Fauja started running again at 89 having found his mojo in the gentle, green rolling hills of England. He finally, “retired” from the full marathon distance of a gruelling 42-km when he was 94! He set numerous records in the distance in his age group and his coach, Harmander Singh had actually said that, “there was nothing to prove any longer.” Since then, he had been concentrating on shorter runs, especially the 10 km.
>> When he is asked the obvious question of how he maintains himself so well, Fauja’s answer is succinct, “Wahe guru ki kripa”. Fauja visits the Gurudwara in Seven Kings area of Ilford, East London daily. At 101, he does not wear spectacles. “Though my vision maybe a little weak, I can still see in front of me quite well. I do not need to aim with a gun anywhere, so I don’t need to wear glasses," Fauja had said. He has said in numerous reports earlier when he used to run full marathons, that no matter what the weather is. he always walks at least 10 km every morning and sometimes runs 20 km a day.
>> On April 1 2011, just one day before India won the cricket World Cup, Fauja became 100 years-old. The Singh family had a small celebration at their London home, but, Fauja, did not let the milestone interrupt his running training.
>> Fauja had done well at the 10-km distance too. In 2011, he ran the Newham Classic 10-km run, through Stratford and the Olympic Park in London amidst 1,500 competitors from 53 countries to finish in a time of 1 hr and 23 minutes. This was the second year he was competing in the event. Before that, at 99, Fauja had completed the run in 1 hr and 15 minutes, which was a world record for his age group. His coach Harmander Singh had said earlier with a laugh, “The main problem 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 also put him through hill running for pace.
>> Once a farmer, always a farmer. Fauja was in Mauritius some time ago and his coach Harmander Singh said that one day, nobody could find him in his hotel! There was a panic situation till they realised that Fauja had wandered away to some sugarcane fields. Fields still bring out the farmer in him!
>> The Queen felicitated the turbanned wonder on December 7, 2005, at a Christmas reception for, “making a significant national contribution to public life” at Buckingham Palace in London.
>> Fauja was once sponsored by sporting giant Adidas, and became the Adidas poster boy along with football greats like Zinedine Zidane, boxing legend Muhammad Ali and cricket’s biggest contemporary name, Sachin Tendulkar.
>> Fauja raised money and was involved in charity work for BLISS (a charity for premature babies). Adidas provided Fauja with his running kit, 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. I am very happy that I have been able to do this and it is God’s gift that people like me are able to do it for others who come later on. I feel the good work that I am doing is more important than getting the fame.”
>> Though he came to Mumbai to run only in 2013, Fauja had said on the phone to this paper in 2009 while sending a message to Mumbai marathoners, “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 became symbolic of running to raise awareness too. Years ago, he was part of the New York marathon where he ran as 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). It had been reported earlier 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.
>> Fauja, who turns 102 on April 1, 2013, said he was still careful about his diet. “The day I wake up and do not feel comfortable as I put my foot on the floor, I know I have eaten something that I should not have. If I get up with a spring in my step then I know I have eaten right,” he said in Mumbai recently. Fauja attributed his success to ginger dal, “curries” he used to call them. His coach Harmander had said, “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.” Hail the power of humble adrak.