Mann Kaur: SIKHCHIC.COM
96-yr-old Gold-Medal Sprinter to Compete in Half-Marathon
Among the thousands of people expected to take to the streets during the Half Marathon in New Delhi on September 30, 2012, there will be one who is bound to be the star.
At 96, Mann Kaur will be the oldest runner to take part in the half marathon.
The Sardarni's time-hewn physique hardly gives an impression that she is an athlete and has starred at various international meets in the masters category.
Born in the Sikh Kingdom of Patiala in 1916, Mann Kaur was married to S. Ranjit Singh, a lassi-khana (kitchen) worker in the palace of Maharaja Bhupinder Singh.
She gave birth to four children. The first one, a girl, died after about a year. Two sons and one daughter are thriving today.
Mann Kaur too joined the service of Maharaja Bhupinder Singh as an assistant to the Rani (Queen) at a monthly salary of Rs.10. Although she can read and write Punjabi, she was never sent to school as was the case with most girls in those days.
She raised her children in Sikhi. The elder son, Gurdev Singh, did his graduation from Punjabi University, Patiala. He was a member of the football and athletics teams in City High School, and later in Mahendra College, Patiala. Thereafter, he remained active in sports.
When in his 60s, he started taking part in Master Athletics and won many medals in meets around the world, including the US State Games, the Canadian Nationals, and the Singapore and Malaysian Master Championships. He now proudly boasts 60 medals.
It was when he saw women atheletes during these international meets that he felt inspired to encourage his mother to turn to atheletics as well.
"I went to Canada for the World Masters Championships and there I saw this lady named Olga, who was above 90 and was competing in the event," said Gurdev.
"I knew my mother's fitness levels and she agreed to take up athletics at this ripe age," adds Gurdev Singh, who himself competes in the 100m, 200m and long jump events.
It was only in 2008 that her son Gurdev Singh convinced her to take up athletics.
He knew Mann Kaur was in good health, despite her advanced age - she was 92 years old then! - and could see that she could become a good athlete. He took his mother to the University grounds and asked her to show how fast she could run.
She was impressive and, upon further encouragement from him, agreed to participate in athletics with him.
She participated for the first time in the Chandigarh Master Athletic Championship five years ago ... and won a gold!
Then she took part in the National Master Athletic Championship held at Chandigarh and won two gold medals ... in the 100m and 200m races.
She participated in the World Masters Athletic Championship held in Sacramento in 2011. There she made history after winning two gold medals in 100m and 200m races.
Now a world record holder in two events, she has won 7 gold medals to date.
She'll be at the Asian Masters Championship to be held in Taiwan in November. She will also participate in the World Master Games to be held in August 2013 in Torino, Italy.
Mann Kaur gets up early in the morning. Does some stretching exercises. Takes a bath in lukewarm water and goes to the gurdwara. Back home, she watches gurbani programme broadcast from Darbar Sahib and Gurdwara Bangla Sahib. After taking a glass of milk, she prepares meals for herself and her son.
During the day, she does some odd jobs but never keeps any kind of tension. Whenever somebody visits, she tries to have them join in a meal. She meets other women of the neighbourhood to share good ideas and encourages them to eat healthy and do exercise. She takes a lot of juices from cheap fruits and vegetables that are in season.
In the evening, she goes for practice in the nearby park. Once a week she goes with her son to the University grounds to encourage youngsters. There, she sprints to her capacity at least five times.
When she returns home, she cooks dinner. She watches a gurbani programme on TV and at bed time takes another glass of milk.
The bespectacled lady is not a marathoner but her achievements in the short-distance races are notable.
In July, 2012, at the Sacramento meet in the United States, she completed the 100m event in 61 seconds.
Later, at the Bangalore Nationals, she clocked 59 seconds, which is a world record in her category.
Mann Kaur survives solely on a family pension, and also manages to save for a rainy day.
Although there is a Masters Athletics Federation of India responsible for selecting athletes for national and international events in the category, there is little that it does when it comes to providing financial support to sportspersons.
"They just tell us where the events are happening and then everything is on us. We have to arrange for funds on our own. We have a son and a daughter who are living abroad and they help us with money for competitions that are abroad," said Gurdev Singh.
Fauja Singh, a centenarian marathon runner, is a role model for both Mann Kaur and her son, Gurdev Singh.
"He (Fauja) is surely an inspiration as he runs marathons even at a 100-plus age and is an athlete of repute, " says Gurdev Singh of the man who is the only 100-year-old athlete to finish a marathon.
Both Mann Kaur and her son are scheduled to head to Chinese Taipei for another Masters Championship in November and then in February, they plan to move their base to Canada.
Finally, it appears, Fauja Singh might have to deal with competition!
[With input from Gurdev Singh, and from Rahul Rawat of India Today]
September 20, 2012
Conversation about this article
1: Baldev Singh (Bradford, United Kingdom), September 20, 2012, 9:02 AM.
What a fantastically inspiring person! Especially for all of us addicted to Bollywood's silly concoctions. Her message is simple: Get a life!
2: N. Singh (Canada), September 20, 2012, 3:30 PM.
This is so impressive. Mann Kaur is indeed an inspirational leader not only in athletics but in being educated in Punjabi at a time when women were not encouraged to read or write. My grandfather was also in the service of the late Maharaja of Patiala. Having been exposed to the ways of the royal court, he brought up his sons (my maternal uncles) to be true gentlemen and Sardars.
3: Harry Rakhraj (New Delhi, India), September 21, 2012, 8:24 AM.
Another jewel in the crown: my home town, Patiala.
4: Harpreet Singh (Delhi, India), September 24, 2012, 3:07 PM.
Great inspiration from such gursikhs who are truly living life as ordained by gurbani, and as lived by our Gurus. Nowadays this active schedule is most essential as we are becoming more and more dependent on machines, servants and/or others - and lazy.