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Salwan Race and a vision to transform video gamers into fit marathoners

While the idea of running for sport or recreation has caught up in India in the last five years or so -- with many marathons and races being staged across the country -- the demography of Indian runners show that our children don’t run. Salwan Cross Country Race strives to get the kids moving, envisaging a fitter future for India.

other sports Updated: Oct 20, 2017 16:06 IST
Leslie Xavier
The 22nd edition of the Salwan Cross Country Race will be staged this year at the Army Equestrian Centre Polo Ground in New Delhi on November 5.
The 22nd edition of the Salwan Cross Country Race will be staged this year at the Army Equestrian Centre Polo Ground in New Delhi on November 5. (HT Photo )

The Indian running season is on -- that time of the year when the mercury dips across the subcontinent and ‘athletes’, across generations, hit the road, preparing and racing in their favourite 10k, half or full marathons -- enjoying, as many say, a new sense of freedom and exhilaration.

Running, as a culture, or as a social movement, is new in India. The last five years or so, the country has seen the mushrooming of many marathons such as the Delhi Half Marathon or the Mumbai Marathon, and proportionately, the number of runners taking part in these races, have increased too. While it is catching en masse, the fact remains that the whole idea of running for sport or recreation is still pretty alien to the country, and the demography on the track, trail or the road reveals another glaring fact.

The quintessential Indian runner is a grown up!

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Yes, Indian kids hardly run, and there are many reasons why the children stay away from an activity which comes natural to the human anatomy as well as psyche.

“Instead, they stick to playing video games these days,” says Inder Dutt, founder of the Salwan Cross Country Race for school children. “Long back, when I asked a child in my school what sport he plays, the reply I got was ‘video games’, and I was alarmed.”

Alarming indeed as the sport the kids pursue is unhealthy (pun intended), and India as a country has a reason to worry.

A race for children

So, a race for the kids, to encourage them to take up running, and subsequently any sport they love, was envisaged by Dutt and Co. at Salwan Education Trust (Salwan Public School), New Delhi. And the Salwan Race -- popularly known as Salwan Marathon -- was born in 1995.

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The 22nd edition of the Salwan Cross Country Race will be staged this year at the Army Equestrian Centre Polo Ground in New Delhi on November 5, and Dutt, as well as the organisers of the race -- Salwan Public School -- is proud of the fact that their race has stuck to its founding principles and is achieving the goal.

The Salwan Race has special categories where visually challenged as well as special children (with active support from Special Olympics Bharat) are allowed to race. This category was introduced in 2010 to take forward the idea of sports being universal to all. (HT Photo )

“The idea was to get the children in schools moving,” said Samrata Diwan, spokesperson of Salwan Cross Country Race. “And the amazing number of students who sign up for the race is a sign that things are moving in the right direction. Last year, we had more than 50,000 participants in the various categories. Runners came from schools from as far as Kerala. We had started off with just a few hundred runners in the first edition.”

Diwan insists the idea to make children run is to make not just sports champions but active and healthy citizens.

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“And, not surprisingly, being active physically leaves a positive mark on the academics as well,” adds Diwan. “The result of Salwan Public School in the Board exams have improved by leaps and bounds ever since we started emphasising on sports and physical activities as part of the curriculum.”

A larger ‘Vision’

The Salwan Race also has special categories where visually challenged as well as special children (with active support from Special Olympics Bharat) are allowed to race. This category was introduced in 2010 to take forward the idea of sports being universal to all.

The participation in the visually challenged, and special categories has also seen a steady rise and one of the most heartening, yet challenging, part of this initiative is the participation of volunteers who help the differently abled competitors complete the raise by acting as guide runners.

The challenge is that sometimes the children would be faster than the volunteer.

“There have been instances when the volunteers have given up and left the ‘special’ child in the middle of the race,” recalls Inder Dutt. “I was infuriated when a volunteer left a blind girl in the middle of the trail in one of the editions. We have volunteers, marshals and water stations every 200-metre or so and the kid received help. Now, we ensure the volunteers who sign up understand the responsibility and the challenge involved.”

Challenges, in general, are many when it comes to building a fitter India. Salwan Race attempts to address this and hopes to trigger a renaissance not just in the mindset of the young students and their parents, but also inspire the educational policy makers of the country.

However, beyond policies, what will work in India is the change that makes individually. After all, systems or policies don’t run a marathon, a person does. Salwan Race’s motto this year is indicative of that philosophy. “Once a marathoner, always a marathoner!”