The Haryana sports department’s decision to close down its Panchkula athletics nursery, along with many others across the state, has left the likes of Gurpreet Pal worried that life might pass him by.
Running barefoot to keep track of cattle along the banks of the Yamuna made Gurpreet a natural athlete. But the 16-yearold from village Shergarh Tapu in Karnal district of Haryana had not dreamt of a career in athletics till Kuldeep Singh, a government school teacher from a nearby village, spotted him.
Within just one-and-half years, Gurpreet, whose parents are daily wagers, attained the 3000m qualifying mark for the Youth World Championships at the national youth championships at Goa last month.
“I won bronze but a national coach informed me along with the gold and silver medallists, I had attained the qualifying mark for the Youth World Championships. He asked me to be ready with a passport and that we would be called for the national camp,” said Gurpreet, who took time to zero in on middle-distance running.
“In my first district event, which happened to be the Panchayat Yuva Krida/Khel Abhiyan (PYKKA) meet in Karnal, I competed in all the races and finished first in 1500m and 3000m. At the state level, I was selected for the PYKKA nationals in 3000m and won bronze. It was then I realised that this suited me.”
Gurpreet’s performance in PYKKA caught the attention of the Haryana sports department coach Nasib Singh and he was selected to the department’s academy in Panchkula, which added fuel to his dream of donning national colours.
Now, uncertainty dogs him at every step. “After the academy shut down, I was left with no other option but to return to my village. Within a few days I realised it isn’t possible to train with the limited facilities here.
“My family’s fight for survival makes it impossible for them to provide me with the diet required for an athlete.
I decided to return to Panchkula but the cost of living is too high,” said Gurpreet, who now shuttles between Panchkula and his village, which is 135km away.
“Whenever money gets exhausted, I go back to the village and return after a few days.”
When contacted, KK Khandelwal, additional chief secretary, Haryana sports department, told HT, “To streamline the system, we have closed down some of the nurseries and academies. This is only for some time and we will be reopening them soon.”
It remains to be seen when that’ll happen but the delay could well snuff out Gurpreet’s hopes.