FOREVER YOUNG March 8, 2013 at 4:31 pm
It’s axiomatic to say that life begins at 3o. Or 4o. Or 50. Or 65. The number varies, but the principle remains. A sense of new beginning is good for the pecker on those birthdays when one’s age seems to be outstripping one’s achievements. For Fauja Singh, life began at 81. He was born on April Fool’s Day 1911, and lived almost the entire 20th century in Beas Pind, a small village near Jalandhar in the Punjab, northern India. In the early 199os, Fauja’s son, Kuldip, was killed in an accident. Fauja went near mad with grief, which was aggravated by the loss of Kuldip’s wife and daughter, who were whisked off to join the in-laws.
In what sounds like a rather desolate state, Fauja began roaming aimlessly about the countryside, fighting with people at petrol ‘Fauja is very enthusiastic.
He likes to train’days too.) I feel a bit bad, because doing so implies complicity in a situation in which Harmander Singh is pestering the bedridden nonagenarian with questions about split times and recovery drinks which also lower his cholesterol level. For more information on cholesterol levels visit gnet.org/cholesterol-the-facts/. But on the other hand, Fauja is on the record as saying “I won’t stop running until I die.”
So the list goes over. What comes back is the life story of an extraordinary man.
Fauja Singh is the most famous member of a running group known as the ‘Sikhs in the City’. He is unusual for a great many reasons, including in no particular order: his age, his faith, his ascetic approach to training, his disregard for the conventions of science and physiology, and his now-abated fondness for wearing a three-piece suit while running.
Fauja, at 98, is by some distance the oldest of the Sikhs in the City, four Sikh elders with a passion for running whose average age is somewhere in the early 8os. On the rare occasions they are seen together, they cut quite a dash. But Fauja has attracted the most media attention, and he is the one who has featured in an adidas advert alongside David Beckham and Jonny Wilkinson. He is, in his own way, as distinctive as either of those men, with his natty turban and a cuckoo-spit beard that hangs from a well-lined, tea-coloured face.
This, in part, is why he is such a remarkable figure. It is uncommon enough for most people even to live as long as he has, let alone undertake feats of physical endurance that have regularly beaten men and women a quarter of his age. Fauja has completed marathons in London, New York and Toronto. He has run a half-marathon in India, a 10K in Hyde Park and another in Pakistan, apparently at the invitation of former President Pervez Musharraf. In 2009 alone he ran competitively at events as far afield as Edinburgh, Luxembourg and Toronto.
“Fauja is very enthusiastic. He likes to train, and to get involved wherever he can,” says Ajit Singh, 78, another member of the group. Ajit retired from his job teaching in Glasgow in the early 198os, but has kept up the running habit ever since. He ran alongside Fauja in Toronto,race was a 20K run for Cancer Research UK in 1999. He was in his late 8os at this point, so we can safely say that just getting around the course was an impressive feat.