From a proud father and coach of a Special Olympics Athlete and an International Marathoner

From a proud father and coach of a Special Olympics Athlete and an International Marathoner

On Fathers Day 21 June 2020

It is a journey of challenges, hard work, perseverance, immense satisfaction and precious personal rewards! I am, Lt Col B D Saha, the father of Ankush Saha, a special athlete who plays Golf and has represented his country in the 2019, Summer World Games, Abu Dhabi, and won a silver medal.  Besides playing golf, he is also a distance runner and has run many half marathons and 4 full marathons till date.

It all started in 2007 with Ankush showing early signs of being a sportsman, spotted by his Principal, Mr Neeraj Bedhotiya, at Mayoor School, Ajmer, running with smooth long strides in one of the school runs.  Around the same time, Golf came to his notice when he started going with me to the Golf course. My golf buddies would point out his natural skills at using the clubs to play shots.

Soon after, we moved to Bangalore on my next posting. Ankush started playing golf at the Army golf course regularly.  He also took a few early lessons from some coaches at Touche’ Academy, Bangalore Golf Club.  But his ability to decipher instructions from regular coaches became a challenge and I started pitching in as his regular coach, practising & playing with him. In 2011, I moved out of the city for 2 years to do a regular course on Golf Course Management, with a stint of 6 months of education in Scotland. 

Meanwhile, Ankush tried to keep up with a minimal routine of golf with assistance from his elder sibling Anish who would take him to the course, do his caddie & be his buddy.  In 2012, Ankush was taken by me to local coaches to try his hand at running middle distance running.  Somehow the attempt did not yield results, as he remained largely unmotivated.

Then I came to know of a running organization named Runner’s High and he joined their 10k program.  Since I had become his coach for golf by default, I was motivated to start on running long distances with the aspiration & aim of training him by setting a personal example.  THAT WORKED! Rest is history…. he made rapid strides and in 8 years he became a full marathoner

Ankush fitted the bill for Special Olympics as indeed, he is athlete with ID.  This happened in the nick of time as I was looking for an avenue to channelize his sporting talent in a more structured manner.  He found meaning in playing his sports in an environment which was supportive of his abilities and he was amongst equal.  I felt very motivated in training him with renewed enthusiasm as his playing at Special Olympics made so much more sense.  He was already very popular in his running community, his status as an athlete-golfer in Special Olympics brought official recognition and satisfaction. 

In 2014, he went with the Indian team of 3 golfers to Asia Pacific Golf Masters, Macau and won a team gold. He participated at the World Games, LA USA 2015 & Abu Dhabi, 2019. He completed his first full Marathon in 2017 at Standard Charted Mumbai Marathon all by himself, after merely 5 years of running long distances.  

Special Olympics is a platform for athletes with ID which lay emphasis on providing equal opportunities of participation to all its athletes, believes in enhancing life skills through playing sport & group dynamics, achieve inclusion by unified sports, etc. Special Olympics should be supported & highlighted to the mainstream society to showcase our athletes & their uninhibited talent in sports despite challenges.  This can be a great learning curve for others, the so called normal people!  

People with ID are seen/treated at par with other disabilities in our country.  This is due to poor awareness in the public domain, Govt’s apathy, gap between the policies & implementation,  lack of infrastructural facilities, etc.  The change is barely perceptible as People with ID still have vast challenges in education, employment/livelihood, financial security, marriage/relationship, etc. 

 It is time for all the stakeholders to come together to develop a sustainable model wherein inclusion is achieved in the real sense and these people with challenges could lead a normal life just like any other human being. Special Olympics is sincerely trying to bring about a paradigm shift in the minds of the people in treating the people with ID with dignity & grace.  It has been successful in showing the difficulties & challenges of its athletes and yet achieve remarkable results. This is by no means is a small task and the kudos be given to Special Olympics movement worldwide.

In 2014, as part of an initiative in our running community Runner’s High, we had trained athletes from few Special schools in     distance running.  They mostly came from poor or impoverished background.  They were just happy running but did not have proper running clothes or shoes.  We did a donation drive within Runner’s high and raised funds, collected used shoes, clothes     from other runners.  In the whole process, we realized the material things that they got really didn’t matter, instead they just wanted to come for each session to get trained to run and be cheered on all the long runs they did.  It was the inclusion they loved.

As we are in a habit of following a regular routine of running, golf & fitness regime, the challenge of doing it indoors during this Covid 19  Lockdown period needed a little tweaking.  I relied on following a schedule that was a combination of high cardio, medium intensity strength training twice a week with emphasis on post workout stretching.  Since no outdoor activities were possible, Ankush had ample time to try his hand at doing household chores, looking after his pet dogs, learn a little cooking & going out occasionally to buy groceries, observing all the safety norms under my guidance. 

It was a great bonding period for the family-something, which is valued even more during these challenging times!