Thousands of children were squatting on the muddy ground on a slightly chilly and hazy Sunday morning. With young volunteers ready to help out, the kids had one thing in common — they were visually impaired. And all of them were excited to participate in the Salwan Marathon, the biggest cross-country run for students across India.
The organisers had estimated that 850 such kids would participate. But the children’s willingness to run surprised everyone when the numbers swelled up to 1,110. Delhi Chief Minister Shiela Dikshit, who flagged off the 3-km race at the Army Equestrian Centre, was extremely pleased to witness the huge turnout. “All citizens should take inspiration from the kind of spirit I see here in the children,” she said.
Shabnam, a 16-year-old visually impaired girl, looked pleased as she tightly held the hand of her volunteer. A student of Kendriya Vidyalaya (JNU), she was participating in for the first time. “I will try to walk and not run a lot so I don’t lose my breath. I will hope to finish the race in good time,” she smiled.
Once the race got underway, volunteers helped children walk and jog along the uneven track. The cautious ones maintained a slow pace as they clung onto their volunteers for guidance, while the more energetic ones bounded ahead. Stragglers were left behind even as a visually impaired girl exhorted her volunteer to run faster.
It was a similar scenario in the other races — those for U-14, U-16 and U-18 children. Around 42,000 students from 700 schools all over the country had gathered at the start line. It was a carnival atmosphere as they exchanged banter and warmed up. Some ran alone, cutting a solitary figure, while others bunched in groups, waving to cameras. All of them thoroughly enjoyed an event that has grown in popularity over the past 14 years.
The winners were given a cash prize of Rs 10,000, while the first and second runners-up were awarded Rs 5,000 and Rs 2,500 respectively.