At the age of 54, GM Antony, who runs a small roadside tea shop, at Kochi, has won his first national weightlifting gold medal
Photos: GM Antony--photos by Albin Mathew; the tea shop
By Shevlin Sebastian
When GM Antony enters the Ernakulam gym at Kochi, on a summer evening, a young man greets him by saying, “Hi, old man, how are you?”
The 54-year-old, with silver hair and moustache, smiles, as he moves to one side and changes into his gear: a T-shirt and shorts.
He steps on a mat and stands still. Then he turns his head clockwise as well as anti-clockwise. Thereafter, he stretches his arms and legs. Finally, he lies down on a bench. A fellow weightlifter put some weights on a rod. Antony takes a deep breath and lifts it. The weight: 120 kgs.
“I come every evening at 4 p.m., and train for two hours,” he says. And the hard work has borne results.
In early April, Antony won a gold medal in the 50 plus age group (105 kgs category) in the National Masters Games held at Chandigarh. This win was achieved through the guidance of M. Raveendranathan, a former Sports Authority of India coach. “Antony has a nice mix of natural talent and correct technique,” says Raveendranathan.
But the road to participation was paved with jagged stones. Since he earns a living by running a tea shop the father-of-two did not have enough money. “I got a contribution of Rs 2000 from the gym,” says Anthony. “Friends also contributed. One friend said, 'Antony, this is for your one-day's food bill,' and gave me Rs 300.”
This was Antony's first visit to North India. At the event, his inexperience became evident. He wore a shirt and lungi, as he stood near the weights. A Punjabi weightlifter asked sarcastically, “Are you a weightlifter?”
Antony became upset. “I knew he was being sarcastic,” he says.
However, this comment was overheard by members of the Tamil Nadu team. “One of them gave me a track pant,” says Antony. Then Raveendranathan suggested that they should buy a T-shirt. So they bought a green one and had the word 'Kerala' printed in white letters across it.
Through his win, Antony has now been selected to take part in the Asian Masters' championships which will be held at Kuala Lumpur in September. “But the cost will be Rs 60,000,” says Antony. “I cannot participate without sponsorship.”
So far, he has not had any luck. But Antony is not discouraged. “I have had a hard life,” he says, and elaborates. “When I was six years old, I got the shock of my life when my father abandoned our family and got married to another woman. Because there was no money in the house, I started working as a helper in a hotel at Kochi.”
One day, when was 15 years old, as he was walking past the Ernakulam Gym he glanced inside and became fascinated by the weightlifters. With the help of a senior waiter, Ayyappan, he was able to become a member. “Coach Ramanathan gave me the right training,” he says.
Soon, Antony began to win district and state awards. Life went on until he got married on September 10, 1995. “To make ends meet, I opened a roadside tea shop and discovered that I had no time,” he says. “I started work at 6 a.m. and closed the shop at 8 p.m. So I stopped weightlifting.” But within a few years, he developed a paunch and began to suffer from varicose veins on his legs. But when the doctor told Antony that he could get cured if he started exercising, he began doing weightlifting again.
So, once again, Antony began to win veterans’ events in the state. While the future does not look financially rosy, in terms of his sports career, Antony does not mind. “I have realised that I am the happiest when I am in the gym,” he says, with a smile.
The Tea Shop
What is interesting about Antony's tea-shop is the front of the shop is lined with several English and Malayalam magazines as well as newspapers. “You will be interested to know that the Sunday Magazine of The New Indian Express is very popular,” he says.
His customers include staff from the nearby Kerala High Court, policemen from a nearby station as well as office-goers and auto rickshaw drivers. Antony sells tea, coffee, bananas, samosas and idlis.
Even though weightlifter GM Antony could not have an education, he has ensured that his children have all the opportunities. Son Ebin is in Class 11, while daughter Ann Mary has just completed her Plus Two. Wife Mallika is a home-maker.
(Sunday Magazine, The New Indian Express, South India and Delhi)