Photographs: Reuben V Prasanna D Zore
Rediff.com met with Rajam Gopi, the 53-year old athlete from Kochi, Kerala, who has done the nation proud by winning scores of gold medals in the veterans' category at national and international meets but is yet to provide a decent house to her family. We spoke to her a day before she ran the half Marathon in Mumbai where she stood first in the womens' veterans category by clocking 02:05:21 hours.
Rajam Gopi's face brightens up the moment we ask her about the Mumbai Marathon.
The wrinkles of sadness vanish suddenly from her face as soon as she begins talking about her only passion in life: running. Had it not been for her passion, Rajam would have been one of the countless poor Indians who go about their mundane chores without a hope for the future.
She's got an indomitable spirit to excel and it shows when she opens a neatly packed file from inside a plastic bag. "My certificates," -- she hands a sheaf of them introducing us to her metier.
At 53, Rajam has won about 80 medals: 40 gold, 25 silver and 15 bronze medals in various national and international meets. And she is in Mumbai to add one more to the tally. Sponsored by Standard Chartered STCI Capital Markets Limited, Rajam will be one of the faces amongst the 38,000 spirited Indians who will be running on January 17, not for the glory that victory brings but to show that they care, that one should never lose hope, that no hurdle in life is insurmountable given the spirit to conquer it.
"I'm running to win, no more. However, even if I don't win I will go back to Kochi a happy woman," Rajam said in her native Malayalam. She understands and speaks broken Hindi, too, all the while smiling, enjoying the moment. And it is moments like these that have helped her overcome the difficulties that come along with being a poor Indian.
'The money that I earn is not enough to support my family'
Rajam, who worked as a sweeper in Kochi once, has moved places, despite her poor financial background, because of that same spirit and her passion for running.
"My husband doesn't work, my son drives an autorickshaw and my daughter's married to a carpenter in Kerala. Currently, I am working as a fitness instructor at Talwalkar's in Kochi," she says.
To make ends meet, Rajam works from 1 pm to 8.30 pm at Talwalkar's, from where she walks her way to a medical laboratory in the heart of Kochi. Here, she works as a cleaner for another four hours.
"The money that I earn is still not enough to support my family," she says with a smile. While she has brought a lot of fame and publicity to the State Government through her representations in various national and international meets, all her appeals to them to either give her a small house or a pension appear to have fallen on deaf ears.
"I've written to them at least on six occasions. Even secretary Shibu Samuel has my petition. Nothing's happened yet, though," she says.
Despite her hardships, Rajam is always ready to share the secret behind her stamina, agility and athleticism. Unlike professional marathoners who stick to a disciplined regimen that includes a balance of carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins and stamina-building powders Rajam sticks to idlis, omelettes, rice, rotis and papads for the simple reason that she cannot afford such unabashed luxuries of life.
Video: Rajam's tips to follow before the Marathon
So how does Rajam prepare herself and build stamina that has helped her run ever since she was a child?
"I run for at least an hour everyday and apart from that, I run 15 kms once a week. Nothing more," she says matter-of-factly. Don't miss her video, in which she elaborates upon how she stays fit.
The Rajam dossier
- Began running in school when she was 14. Represented her school at the state level and won a gold
- Won gold in the 5 km walk, the 5000 m and the 300 m hurdles race recently at the Guwahati National
- Won the women's round in the recently concluded Metlife Marathon at Kochi.
- Chosen as the Best Athlete of Kerala 2008 by the Kerala Venterans' Sports Association.
- Bagged a gold medal at the Airtel Delhi Half Marathon in 2008.
- Won four gold medals at the 15th Asia Masters Athletics championship held at Chiang Mai, Thailand,
in December 2008.
Video: Reuben V