Lights, camera . . . and then missing in action!
Once known as a ‘marathon prodigy’, Budhia, now a lanky teenager of 14 is just like any other 150 odd children at the Kalinga stadium hostel in Bhubaneshwar. His life has changed in more than one ways and nobody had foreseen it. The overnight star, suddenly vanished from the magazine covers, athletic events and streets of Odisha after 2007.
The story of Budhia Awooga Singh is nothing short of a dramatic Bollywood movie. Born in 2002 in a very poor family; father’s death compelled his mother, Sukanti to sell Budhia to a street hawker for Rs. 800/-; Biranchi Das, the president of the Saliasahi Slumdwellers’ Association (where Budhia lived with his parents), got to know about Budhia, he was furious and ‘bought’ the child back from the hawker by paying Rs. 800.
Biranchi Das was a judo trainer. He took Budhia to his coaching centre and started training him for judo. However, Biranchi accidentally discovered the child’s talent when he once asked Budhia to run around the running track as punishment for his use of slang words. When biranchi returned six hours later, Budhia was still running.
Das had no experience with athletics or long-distance running, but he devised his own training programme. Budhia would get up at 4 am and run for at least 6 hours a day. His diet was rich and varied: goat liver, mutton and chicken. In the evening, das would take him out on his two wheeler and treat him to tandoori chicken, orange juice and egg rolls, “I was treated with so much care by Biranchi sir. He took care of me like his own son”, says budhia in an interview to Indian Express. He participated in as many as 48 marathons.
The most famous run was when Budhia ran a record breaking 65kms from puri to Bhubaneshwar in 2006 at the age of four in 7 hours and 2 mins and found a place in the Limca Book of Records.
Sponsorships and scholarships piled up and so did the controversies!! Das’ tough training sessions for the four year old child came under the media scanner and within a few months the child welfare department temporarily barred Budhia from running in marathons. It was claimed that he may suffer from Osteoarthritis and his future will be crippled with the burnout syndrome. He was sent to a sports hostel.
“All that I am getting to run is 1500 metres. I am being told to improve my speed by my coach, but I don’t know how far it would help me. I don’t like running sprint events, but that’s what I am being asked to run. Hostel life is so regimented that I hardly get time to practice for marathons,” says Budhia in an interview to Indian Express.
The state govt has been paying for his education, and other basic needs at the sports hostel, but Budhia misses the freedom that his coach gave him. In the hostel, Budhia lags behind other students in sprint events.
His hostel coach, believes there is nothing prodigal about him now and it is too early to think about even the national games.
Presently, Budhia is a restless teenager. All he wants to do is get back to long-distance running.
“I believe I am born to run marathons. Even now, I can run for more hours without being tired. I am neither getting the required coaching nor the food. I get just about 3-4 pieces of chicken while I was being fed more by Biranchi sir when I was four years old. I feel like I am in a jai,” says Budhia to Indian Express.
The boy still aspires for an Olympics medal – something he and his mentor-cum-coach Biranchi Das, who was murdered in 2008, had once dreamt together.
Noted sports journalist Sambit Mohapatra, who has followed Budhia since 2006, says the child’s potential may have been wasted.
“He was not a regular sports talent. He needed specialised coaching, food and care which is never possible in a sports hostel with 140-plus boys,” he says.
Coach Surender Singh Bhandari, who has mentored athletes Nitendra Singh Rawat, Kheta Ram and T Gopi, who have all qualified for the marathon event of the Rio 2016 Olympics, believes Budhia needs to wait it out. “He is too young for marathons. Of course, world over you get marathon champions at 18-19, but you need to consider the Indian body structure, particularly the bone density.
The Indian body develops later compared to foreigners, roughly by 18. But to focus on marathon running, which has a lot of strain, the ideal age is to start after 20. Marathon running puts a lot of pressure on the body. Budhia did that when he was four by running the distance he did. They were remarkable feats, but his body would definitely be carrying some injuries that would act up if he continued. If he starts marathon again now, by 20-21, his body will be exhausted and injury-prone. His career will not last long,” says Bhandari to Indian Express.
The ideal thing is to stick to middle distances so he can build up his body, speed and stamina. However, prodigal kids like Dipa Karmakar have set an example that with right training and guidance they can represent India on International Sports Forums
Budhia Singh, who should have been provided with better training from top coaches of the nation and moulded into an international athlete, is now nowhere near competing even at the district level.
An extraordinary talent has now been forced to become part of the crowd. Budhia’s rollercoaster journey transforms from an uplifting tale of hope and opportunity to one of broken dreams. No clear heroes or villains emerge.
I am not cut out for studies. I only know how to run”. He waits for another father figure to inspire him. It is a long frustrating wait for a fairy tale to come true.
Why has Budhia failed to live up to the expectations so far?
Or is it the govt or we as a society failed to hone his talent?
What could it possibly be ??.