As he turned a memorable 101-years-old Sunday, Sikh marathoner Fauja Singh did not have his birthday celebrations on his mind at his London home. Instead, the oldest athlete on earth is busy preparing for his next event – the London Marathon – on April 22. Getting up early Sunday at his Ilford-London home, Fauja was on the tracks to run six laps as the ‘Sikhs in the City’ team organized an event in London to run 101 laps of two km each to commemorate his 101st birthday. Even at 101, what is top-most on his mind is the preparation for the London Marathon for which he is already training and not his birthday cake.
“Mere coach ne mainu dovara jinda kar ditta hai (my coach has given me a fresh lease of life),” Fauja Singh told his Chandigarh-based biographer Khushwant Singh. Last year, Fauja Singh had become, perhaps the only man in the world to have lived a 100 years to see his biography being released at that age. The biography ‘Turbaned Tornado’ (Rupa/Rs.250) was released at the Atlee Room of the House of Lords in London in July last year.
An illiterate person who converses only in Punjabi, Fauja had told IANS how he yearned that he could have read his biography. As Fauja Singh prepares for the London marathon, no insurance company in Britain is ready to issue him a policy for the event. ”No company here is ready to insure him. We are willing to accept insurance even from India from anyone who has the confidence in Fauja’s ability,” Fauja’s coach Harmandar Singh said.
“Recently, when I spoke to him, he was not sure on whether he should run the full or half marathon. He asked me for suggestions and then he said ‘Je marna hi hai taan poori da lambha le ke maraan’ (If I have to die then I should be blamed for running the full one (marathon),” Khushwant told IANS. His biographer has one regret: “He is the embodiment of all virile Sikhs in the world. He has shown the true genes of the Sikhs as a tough race. But the state (Punjab) of his birth has not come forward to honour his achievements. It’s a sad reflection of our priorities.”
The Guinness World Records had last October refused to recognize Fauja Singh as the world’s oldest marathoner after he successfully completed the Toronto Marathon (42.195 km) in just over eight hours. Though Guinness officials came for his feat to Toronto, they refused to acknowledge him as the oldest man running marathons as he could not produce a birth certificate.
Fauja has rubbed shoulders with the likes of football star David Beckham and other sporting celebrities as brand ambassador and poster-boy of leading footwear company Adidas for their international campaign. Billboards featuring him once used to be prominently displayed on busy London streets.
Last year, when he turned 100, Fauja got a congratulatory telegram from Queen Elizabeth. Even at 101, Fauja does not want to give up his latest love – running. Born April 1, 1911, at Beas Pind in Punjab’s Jalandhar district, 170 km from Chandigarh, age has not been a barrier for him. Having become the world’s oldest half marathon runner at 99 years of age in May 2010 when he ran the Inter-Faith Marathon in Luxembourg, Fauja, whose name means a soldier, is a one-man army who wants to keep running till he drops. ”I won’t stop running till I die. I want to be remembered as the person who ran till the end,” Fauja, who has been living in London for the last nearly 16 years, told IANS recently. The death of his son Kuldip and earlier of his wife forced Fauja to search for a worthwhile alternative in life. At 89 years, he took seriously to running and ended up in international marathon events like the London, Glasgow, Toronto ones.
“When he first turned up for training at Redbridge-Essex with Harmandar, he was dressed in a three-piece suit. The coach had to rework everything, including his dress,” Khushwant said. Fauja ran his first race, the London Marathon, in 2000. Before that, his early memory of being a runner was, at best, limited to participating in village sporting competitions before World War-II. He was well-known in his village for running “from one place to another”, old-timers in his village recount.