By Shevlin Sebastian
PS John shifted nervously on his bed late at night. The next day, January 12, the 89-year-old was going to take part in the 100m race in the 85-89 age category at the the Masters Athletic Championship at the St. Thomas College, Thrissur. John was taking part in a race after a 14-month gap. On October 18, 2017, he had undergone a bypass operation. Two blocks had been removed and a valve replaced. After six months, John had started training. And now he felt he was ready.
But when John stepped on the track, he was taken aback by the heat. Secondly, the red soil looked hard. But, nevertheless, he took everything in his stride. There were three other participants, all younger than John.
The starter’s gun rang out. Very quickly John moved into the lead. Exactly 22.2 seconds later, he breasted the tape, becoming one of the oldest winners of a race in Kerala. He also took part in the long jump. And again, against slightly younger competitors, he jumped 7.2 feet. And won the gold again.
Not many people know that John has had an illustrious career. At the World Masters Athletic championships at Lyon, France, in 2015, he won the gold in the 80m hurdles, the 200m hurdles and a bronze in the long jump. Owing to his spectacular performance, John was adjudged the ‘Best Master Athlete 2015’ by the Asia Masters Athletics organisation.
John has been winning medals consistently over the decades at state, national and international competitions. His total haul is 141 medals (94 gold, 33 silver and 14 bronze). “It is hard work and dedication that has enabled me to win,” he says. “No matter how difficult life is, on the track I forget everything.”
In his daily life, John, who is a retired Malayalam teacher, is a farmer at Kanjirapally. He grows rubber, cocoa, bananas, jackfruit and organic vegetables. “I get milk straight from the cow,” says John. “There is a peaceful feeling when you work in Nature. Walking around enables me to keep fit.”
Asked about his future plans, John says, “This year, on October 11, I will turn 90 and then I am keen to take part in the 90 years plus category in the state and national meets. I would also like to participate in the world championships which will take place at Toronto in 2020.”
John pauses and says, “To take rest is to die.”
(The New Indian Express, page 1, Kerala editions)