Oldest half marathoner wants to run till end

Jaideep Sarin

Jalandhar (Punjab), Jan 21 (IANS) His fellow villagers remember him as always running 'from one place to another'. But 99-year-old Fauja Singh, once a farmer in Punjab who now lives in Britain, took to running with a passion only in his twilight years and says he won't stop till he drops.

Born April 1, 1911, at Beas Pind in Punjab's Jalandhar district, Fauja Singh became the oldest half-marathon runner on this planet at the age of 99 in May last year when he ran the Inter-Faith Marathon in Luxemburg.

'I won't stop running till I die. I want to be remembered as the person who ran till the end,' Fauja Singh told IANS. 'Fauja' literally means a soldier.

Fauja Singh, who has been living in Ilford, London, for the last 16 years, was here to visit one of his sons in his native village, some 170 km from Chandigarh.

His wife's death left him shaken but his son Kuldip's death made Fauja look for some meaningful alternative in life. At the ripe age of 89, he seriously took to running and ended up in international marathon events in London, Glasgow and Toronto, among others.

'When he first turned up for training at Redbridge-Essex with coach and athlete Harmandar Singh, he was dressed in a three-piece suit. The coach had to re-work everything on him, including his dress,' said Fauja Singh's biographer, author-horticulturist Khushwant Singh.

Fauja Singh's biography, titled 'Turbaned Tornado', is slated for release April 1 this year in London - to coincide with his 100th birthday.

Fauja Singh 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 (1939-45).

Before he picked up his passion for running full-time, Fauja Singh was well-known in his village for always running 'from one place to another' in his daily routine, old-timers in his village recount.

Despite being an illiterate farmer all his life, he was picked up by international sportswear brand Adidas as its brand ambassador in 2003. For its campaign, he rubbed shoulders with celebrities like footballer David Beckham, rugby ace Jonny Wilkinson and woman boxer Laila Ali - daughter of legendary boxer Mohammed Ali.

Never to give up any opportunity to run for a cause, Fauja Singh ran at the village of his coach in Punjab's Moga district this week to campaign against rampant drug abuse among youth in Punjab.

'Every penny that has been raised from his running career and endorsements has gone to charity. The determination of this man even at this age is amazing,' his biographer says.

'But it's a shame that we only want to identify people with moneybags. The Punjabi community has failed to match up to the recognition he has got internationally. The community promises a lot but does not deliver. He is perhaps the only internationally known Sikh face besides Prime Minister Manmohan Singh,' Khushwant Singh added.

(Jaideep Sarin can be contacted at jaideep.s@ians.in)