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Running fever

Navnath Ugade used to take the five-kilometre walk from his farm-cum-house in Karvandwadi to Dapur village bus stand en-route to Sinnar College with a dream of charting a better future for his family, reports Abhijeet Kulkarni.

other Updated: Jul 19, 2009 23:35 IST
Abhijeet Kulkarni

Navnath Ugade used to take the five-kilometre walk from his farm-cum-house in Karvandwadi to Dapur village bus stand en-route to Sinnar College with a dream of charting a better future for his family.

Education was the door to a steady job and prosperity for the tribal youngster. But, more than the classroom, Ugade was lured to the makeshift athletic track behind the college, where Deepak Londhe, a national-level athlete and NIS certified coach, and his two brothers were trying to motivate students to take up sport. Londhe provided Ugade with a direction for life.

Ugade, who participated in cross country competitions at the All India University level, was picked in the police force because of his superior fitness and athleticism in 2004. That sparked a revolution, which has seen 37 athletes from Sinnar taluka getting jobs in the department in five years. Four athletes are employed as physical education teachers in schools.

“A lot of credit for showing this direction to youngsters in the surrounding village should go to Londhe sir,” says Ugade (30), who is now a police constable in Mumbai.

The Londhe brothers believed that creating a sports culture in the taluka would not only help unearth sporting talent but also provide a purpose to many. While Deepak began training school and college students, elder brother Balasaheb put together an organisation that would conduct sports events in the region and the Sinnar Taluka Amateur Athletic Association (STAAA) was formed.

“Since we wanted an organisation for the entire taluka, we decided that it should become an official sports body and not an academy,” says Balasaheb, secretary of the association.

Currently the STAAA is the only block-level association in Nashik district and conducts a cross country tournament in July and an athletics meet in December. The selected players then receive training.

“We are in the sixth year now and the response has been overwhelming. Earlier it was difficult to convince parents to send their kids to train but once they understood that sports could help get jobs their attitude is changing,” the senior Londhe says.

Out of 37 athletes roped in by the state police, five are girls. The situation is such that there is a special batch of about 25, which prepares specifically for the police entrance. Despite the good response in the area and monetary support from I-Flex and now Oracle for the two events, the initiative is struggling due to lack of funds.

“Once Deepak left for his job with the Bombay Port Trust, we have been asking the district association to give us a good coach. We can’t afford to hire one ourselves and our facilities are primitive,” says Balasaheb.

Currently the seniors and the school physical education teachers shoulder the responsibility of training kids but all those working on the initiative know that creating national and international athletes will remain a pipe dream this way.

“To begin with we are sending 30 kids selected from this year’s competitions to the Kandivali SAI centre for summer training. We’ll do we can to take this initiative forward,” he adds.