The world's oldest marathoner: India's Turbaned Tornado
Did you know that the world's oldest marathon runner is an Indian?
Yes, he is none other than the beloved Fauja Singh. Now according to the United Nations, there were only 316,000 living centenarians (people who live to or beyond the age of 100 years) in the world as of 2012. What are the chances that one of them could be an active marathon runner?
Fauja Singh is a British centenarian marathon runner of Punjabi Indian descent who retired from competitive running on 24 February 2013, just about a month prior to his 102nd birthday.
As a kid, Fauja Singh couldn't walk till the age of 5.
Fauja was born on April 1st, 1911, in Beas Pind, Jalandhar, Punjab province of British India. It is indeed hard to believe that the man who completed the London marathon in 6 hours and 2 minutes at the age of 92, could not develop the ability to walk till the age of five years due to his weak and slender legs. His friends would tease him by calling him "danda" (stick), a name that stuck to him due to his stick-figure like legs. As a child, Fauja struggled to even walk for long distances but still took up running at amateur level despite of all his physical limitations.
Fauja Singh never went to school, he became a farmhand at an early age and continued farming even after his marriage. He had 3 boys and 3 girls with his wife Gian Kaur, all of whom moved to Canada or England for their jobs except for Kuldip, his fifth child.
Running was the best way Fauja found to heal himself.
During an ill-fated period of 2 years, Fauja first lost his wife and daughter in 1992 and then his son Kuldip in a construction accident in 1994. But Fauja rose above all the misfortunes and took up running as a new way of life. Devastated with the loss of his loved ones, he moved to England and started living with one of his sons in Ilford.
Fauja took up running seriously at the age of 89 and used to run 20 kilometers with ease. He wanted to participate in the marathon thinking that it was only 26 kilometers instead of 26 miles (42.195 km), a misconception arising from the Punjabi word 'mille' which translates to a kilometer. At the age of 89, he started the London marathon in 2000 with his coach and completed the journey in 6 hours and 54 minutes.
Fauja Singh got global recognition when he completed the 26.2 mile distance in 6 hours and 54 minutes in the London Marathon of 2003 and beat the World Record by 58 minutest for anyone in the 90-plus age bracket. Months later at the Toronto Waterfront Marathon, he improved his record further, with the clock recording 5 hours and 40 minutes. "The first 20 miles are not difficult. As for last six miles, I run while talking to God." said Fauja when asked about his approach to running marathons at such old age.
Breaking records became a way of life.
In April 2011, Fauja Singh celebrated his 100th birthday and later that year accomplished 8 world age group records in one day, at the special Ontario Masters Association Fauja Singh Invitational Meet, held at Birchmount Stadium in Toronto, Ontario Canada. According to the Canadian officials, he ran the 100m, 200m, 400m, 800m, 1500m, the mile, 3000m, and 5000m – setting 5 world records for his age group in one day. Each time he beat the previous record in that age division. The fact that some events had no previous record holder as nobody over age 100 had ever attempted the distance, speaks volumes about his determination and grit.
On 16th of October, 2011, Fauja Singh became the first centenarian to complete a marathon, the Toronto Waterfront Marathon, recording a time of 8 hours 11 minutes 6 seconds. It was a landmark moment in the history of marathon running.
Fauja retired from competitive running in 2013 after completing the Standard Chartered 10 km Marathon Run in Hong Kong with a timing of 1 hour and 32 minutes. It’s a shame that Guinness World Records refused to include Singh in its record book since he could not produce his birth certificate to prove his age because birth records were not kept in India in 1911.
Fauja Singh completed eight full-marathon runs in London(5), Toronto(2) and New York(1) between 2000 and 2011.
Fauja Singh has carried the Olympic torch on two occasions – at the 2004 Athens Olympics and the 2012 London Olympics.
In 2004, he was featured in an advertising campaign for sportswear manufacturer Adidas withe likes of David Beckham and Muhammad Ali.
He became the oldest man to be featured in a PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment for Animals) ad campaign in October 2011 which reads “I am Fauja Singh and I Am a Vegetarian. 100-Year-Young Marathon Runner and World Record Holder.”
The British Government conferred the British Empire Medal (BEM) on 103-year-old Fauja Singh in 2015, for his achievements and charity work.
For his amazing sportive accomplishments, Fauja Singh is called the “Sikh Superman”.
Khushwant Singh wrote a great book on him, titled "Turbaned Tornado".
His biography, titled “Turbaned Tornado” was written by famous columnist and writer Khushwant Singh and was formally released in the Attlee Room of Britain's House of Lords on 7 July 2011. Its a suited tribute to this great man. If you want to know more about him, you can purchase this book here.
Till date, Fauja Singh hasn't used a walking stick which is associated with our modern age's typical 60-year-olds. He truly is an inspiration to people of all age groups. His simple approach towards a healthy life and the zeal for running is truly unmatched. Fauja is the member of "Sikhs in the City" group. He, along with three other members aged 79, 80 and 80 form the team of "Golden Oldies" in 2009 which continues to run marathons across the globe to raise funds for Fauja Singh's charities.
"There are two noble things in life: one to do charity and other to look after your body,” Fauja once said. This, undoubtedly, is the biggest lesson we can learn from the living legend. And the man with the golden heart, Fauja Singh, continues to serve his noble cause even after retirement.