Ram Baboo’s own long walk to 35km national mark

Published on Oct 04, 2022 11:05 PM IST

Coming from a poor background, the youngster’s dream of making it in life through sport is a work in progress; setting the 35km race-walk record at the National Games an key stop.

Ram Baboo(National Games)
Ram Baboo(National Games)
ByAvishek Roy, Ahmedabad

Race walker Ram Baboo could never have imagined working as a labourer, and tilling the field, to support his family. He had seen his father doing that while raising a family of six in the remote Uttar Pradesh village of Bauar, in Sonbhadra district. It was precisely to avoid the plight that Baboo chose sports as a career. He was inspired by the performance of Indian athletes at the 2012 London Olympics and like many youngsters he too was filled with the dream of representing India on the world stage.

A 200m track near his place was where Baboo began his journey in athletics. In the beginning, he wanted to become a marathon runner. Then he moved to race walking and gradually rose to the national level. He made the most of the little financial help his family provided, and then funded his own training. To further his ambition, Baboo worked as a waiter in a hotel in Varanasi and did courier packaging, all the while keeping up his high intensity training.

The pandemic though threatened to halt his years of effort. Like many during the lockdown, his father too began struggling financially. Baboo then joined his father in manual labour under the government’s MNREGA scheme, earning daily wages of 300.

These hardships though have shaped Baboo’s Olympic dream. On Tuesday, his relentless fight against circumstances meant something when he broke the national record while winning the 35km race walk in the National Games here. He won in two hours 36 minutes 34 seconds, pushing previous record-holder Juned Khan of Haryana (old record: 2:40.16) to second.

“After Covid, I went to Bhopal and trained with a good group under coach Surender Paul. I have seen so much in life; I decided it is do-or-die for me. I worked so hard that I was confident of breaking the national record in national race walking championships last year,” Baboo said.

The 23-year-old is a physical education graduate, had no money to compete in the Ranchi nationals in April. His coach provided him flight tickets, a first for Baboo, and he repaid his kindness by finishing second, behind Juned.

“That was the first time I went to a competition on a flight; it was because the coach felt I should be fresh,” he said.

Indian race walkers have been doing well in recent times. At the Commonwealth Games, India had two medal winners—Sandeep Kumar and Priyanka Goswami.

Baboo is now eyeing a spot in the Paris Olympics, but the tough journey he has made highlights the difficulties an athlete at the grassroots sometimes has to endure.

A student of the Jawahar Navodya Vidyalaya, Baboo was determined from the start. “It was the 2012 Olympics and sports was in the limelight. A senior told me “you can make a career in sport” and I started training on a track. There was a hockey coach who guided me a bit but mostly it was me running on the track every day and pushing myself.”

Baboo then went to Varanasi for training where he worked as a waiter.

“I used to feel so bad because you don’t get any respect as a waiter. I used to wonder what I was doing there, my training also suffered. My mother also started working from home selling sweets because I needed more money.”

Baboo competed in the world race walking team championships as well. He is now trying to get a job in the Army. Currently, he trains at Army Sports Institute, Pune as civilian.

“I am waiting for permanent recruitment. At present my training, food and accommodation is taken care of. When I am in the national camp, the federation support helps. But I have to still borrow money to come to competitions like here,” he said.

“I often think how even after being a national level athlete one does not get full time support; only when you become a star and Olympian does financial help come your way.”

The experience during Covid has toughened him.

“That will stay with me forever. The lockdown period was tough for us and it has made me more determined to achieve my goals.”

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