The other two who preceded him, collapsed from exhaustion after crossing the finishing line. In contrast his entry was majestic, he jogged in energetically like a hero, both arms raised in celebration. He looked a little dazed, a little confused as the crowd cheered on, giving him a heartfelt standing ovation. He clapped a little too, maybe for himself, maybe in appreciation for their appreciation. And then he knelt down and kissed the ground in gratitude. The perfect end to a gruelling sixteen hour race. He had won the coveted title of Ironman with only 28 secs to spare. In fact he was the last one to have lasted.
For those who are not in the know, Ironman is a triathlon organised the world over by the W.T.C. It requires participants to complete a 3.8 kilometre swim, a 180.2 kilometre bicycle ride, and a 42.2 kilometre run within 15.50 -17 hours depending on the terrain. People from various walks of life and in varying states of health, attempt the race as the ultimate challenge to the human spirit. For most Indians Milind Soman is synonymous with Ironman. Because of his star status he earned accolades when he won the title a few years ago. And although I don’t crib the volume of praise he received, I do feel that there are many other Indians who have achieved this feat and stay unnoticed and unsung.
From pilots to IT engineers, marketing managers to tech entrepreneurs, all sorts of unlikely Indians have participated and completed this race without enough of us being aware of it. Apart from the immense discipline it takes to juggle personal and professional lives for the gruelling training sessions, in our country it also means working around constraints. With no real walkways, no designated cycling tracks and no swim worthy lakes aspirants are left to their own devices and destiny.
When scores have completed the race before him, many in lesser time, why does the last Ironman of the season deserve a mention in a national daily. Because I am privy to a small detail that shows that he is more than the title he won. His friend who was also competing, had very little experience of open water swimming and hence harboured a phobia for the first leg of the race. He would lose direction in water, thus losing time. To help his friend stay on track he offered to lead. He painted his foot red so that it could be identified in the crowd of 3000 swimmers. In a race where every second counts, he kept looking back, locating his friend in the sea of swimmers and shouting “ Aaja bhai aaja.” He lost ten precious minutes doing this but ensured that his friend made it to the other side. A selfless deed indeed, to help out a buddy when one’s own ambition is at stake.
I know this story because the rudderless swimmer is my brother. When my brother saw that his friend might lose by a few seconds he wept shamelessly knowing that he was the cause. I could have skipped this ‘weepy’ detail as it isn’t essential to the narrative but added it just to spite my brother. And to tell the world that aspiring ironmen are soft inside!
Mr Surender Yadav should have received a Hero’s welcome when he returned from Sweden. But that is just my opinion. It has been patiently explained to me that recognition is not what Ironmen strive for. It is the will to fight their own weaknesses, push themselves to the limit and be the best version of themselves. Having achieved his goal, the engineer that slips back into his automobile paint business will not be the same. He now knows that his potential is limitless and the memory of his inner fight to achieve this goal will never fade.
( published in my column in the Tribune on 24/8/19)