12 March 2019

That final hurdle....

There’s a YouTube video that exemplifies the passion that people bring to the sport of their choice. In fact, there are many. Some are about known athletes. Stars. Olympians. Test cricketers. Some are of nationally known stars. Then there are videos of lesser people too, thanks to hand-held devices that have recording functions. And then there are examples that don’t come with footage. They are talked about, like the heroics of heroes from long before there was internet, television, radio or even newspapers.
The one I am referring to is about Derek Redmond. You may have heard of this British athlete tipped to win a medal at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992. Redmond had a good start but with a little more than half the distance to go in the 400m race, he pulled up, clutching his leg. He had torn his hamstring. The other athletes left him far behind. Redmond sat on the track, writhing in agony.
Then the unthinkable happened. He got up. He wanted to finish the race even though everyone else had crossed the finish line. He had to hop. Suddenly someone broke through the security cordon and ran up to Redmond. It was his father who told Redmond, ‘you don’t have to do this’. Redmond was moved. He wept. His father said ‘if you want to do this, let’s do it together’. He put his arm around his son and they walked together. When they were close, his father let Redmond finish on his own.  
The father’s intervention is a special story of course [here's the video]. What’s important here is the spirit, the passion, the will to complete the race. 
You may have heard of  Ranathunga Karunananda, the Sri Lankan long distance runner who also embodies what is called the Olympic Spirit. He was not well that day, but he nevertheless competed in the 10,000m race. He was lapped several times by the others. Billy Mills of the USA won the race. Karunananda kept running, way behind the rest of the field. Some competitors, when they knew they had no chance of securing a medal dropped out of the race. Karunanada kept running. He finished the race to a standing ovation. [Here's a video clip and here are a couple of articles on him: a) We don't need another hero and I was graced by the spirit of R.J.K. Karunananda]
‘I wanted my little daughter to know that I had finished the race,’ was his explanation.
Heroes. Both of them.  
Their stories are known. They are told and retold. As they should. They inspire others. 
But then there are stories that don’t get written, athletes who are not celebrated. A 15 year old girl, for example, who came last in a 400m hurdles race at an inter-house sports meet. 
He had never competed in any individual event. She had been chosen to represent her house in this race. She hadn’t even run a complete 400 m distance with hurdles before the race, although she had run the distance (without hurdles) a couple of times a few days before the race. 
She wasn’t going to win any medals. That was certain 100m into the race.  By the time she had come to the 300m mark or so, she was exhausted. When she came to the final hurdle, she had to stop and jump, for she was too tired to take the leap running. Her house-mates cheered her on. She had a few more meters to run but many doubted if she could make it. But they urged her to complete. She staggered across the finish line somehow. Everyone cheered.
‘Our house captain said that she was proud of me and that I symbolize what the house stood for; that was enough for me,’ she said.
It’s nice to win. It’s sad to lose. Either way, the best you can do is to be the best you can be. That’s enough. Really.
Several years ago, I wrote a regular column for the JEANS section of 'The Nation'.  The editor of JEANS, Kusumanjalee Thilakarathna now handles the 'Littlestars' tabloid distributed with 'The Sunday Morning'. This is the nineteenth article for Littlestars.  Scroll down to find the full series of articles written for JEANS and the those of this new series.

A man, a stream and a tree (in Dehigaha Ela or anywhere you like)
Ukku Banda loved and gave, lived and died

Articles for THE NATION
On the softest things, softly
Some jokes are not funny
There's an ant story waiting for you
And you can be a rainbow-maker
Trees are noble teachers
On cloudless nights the moon is a hole
Gulp down those hurtful words
A question is a boat, a jet, a space-ship or a heart
Quotes can take you far but they can also stop you
No one is weak
The fisherman in a black shirt
Let's celebrate Nelli and Nelliness
Ready for time travel?
Puddles look back at you, did you know?
What's the view like from your door?
The world is rearranged by silhouettes
How would you paint the sky?
It is cool to slosh around
You can compose your own music
Pebbles are amazing things
You can fly if you want to
The happiest days of our lives
So what do you want to do with the rain?
Still looking for that secret passage?
Maybe we should respect the dust we walk on
Numbers are beautiful 
There are libraries everywhere 
Collect something crazy
Fragments speak of a thousand stories 
The games you can and cannot play with rice
The magic of the road less-traveled
Have you ever thought of forgiving?
Wallflowers are pretty, aren't they?
What kind of friend do you want to be? 
Noticed the countless butterflies around you?
It's great to chase rainbows
In praise of 'lesser' creatures 
A mango is a book did you know?
Expressions are interesting things
How many pairs of eyes do you need?
So no one likes you?
There is magic in faraway lights
The thambilil-seller of Giriulla
When people won't listen, things will
Lessons of the seven-times table