“I started running when I was 13 years old. I am over 50 now and I still jog every morning. I can get very moody without this morning ritual,” says the golden girl of Indian athletics, P T Usha. That’s the determination, which took this famous athlete to great heights and brought glory to the country. The queen of track and field, who was named Payyoli Express because of her incredible speed, is now inspiring young sports people to take up athletics. With a desire to give back to the sport, the Arjuna awardee is now training athletes at her academy, Usha School of Athletics at Koyilandy in Kerala.
Here, she talks to ParentCircle about the need for children to take up a sport to stay fit and healthy.
Q. How would you compare the fitness levels of children today with those from previous generations?
A. Children these days are weaker, less muscular and unable to complete physical tasks that previous generations found simple. This is probably due to the fact that food today is not as nutrient-rich as before. Also, there is reduced participation in activities like rope climbing and tree-climbing. Falling off a branch used to be a good lesson in picking yourself up and learning to climb better. Now, fear stops children from even climbing in the first place.
Q How can fitness be made fun for kids?
A. Children learn the most from their parents. So, one of the best ways to help kids get fit is to get the family together and organise games such as running, basketball, volleyball or football.
Q.What steps can parents take to encourage the present generation to eat healthy?
A. First, make your children aware of what they are eating and look for ways to make their favourite dishes healthier. Reduce the consumption of calorie-rich temptations. Another part of balancing calorie-intake is to engage in an appropriate amount of physical activity. Children and teens should participate in at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day.
Q. Does your own son have a personal fitness trainer in you?
A. You know, I did not have formal training as a kid. I was the second of six children, and all I wanted to do was run. I believe a healthy body reflects a healthy mind. I tell my son that if he is fit, he can take up any challenge, mentally as well as academically. I share my knowledge with him and give him tips on jogging and running. Added to that, I’ve drilled into him the importance of not being dependent on shoes, shorts, good grounds or company when it comes to exercise. All you need is inner determination.
Q. Can physical fitness improve academic performance?
A. Yes of course, in so many ways! There are many lessons to be learnt. For example, if you jog for the first time, you start gasping and this is the first symptom of pain. The more you gasp, the better your pain-bearing mechanism. Your body will rise to the challenge and equip you with the stamina to survive the situation. You build resilience, which will hold you in good stead in other life situations too.
Q. At ParentCircle, we’re huge fans of the Payyoli Express! Growing up, who were your idols?
A. Well, when I started off, I hadn’t heard of anyone but Milkha Singh. That’s the only name I remember from those days.
Q. Why is it important to stay fit?
A. Did you know that in urban India almost 99 percent of children are not physically fit? I believe that if you aren’t physically fit, you are unfit for leading a good life - not just during childhood, but well into adulthood. So, awareness on nutrition and fitness needs to be spread among children as well as their parents.
Q. What does PT Usha do in her leisure?
A. I love watching movies, but I need to be in the right mood even for that. I am always so busy that when I have free time, my favourite thing to do is clean the house and cook some good food!
Q. What’s your best dish?
(Exchanges a giggle with her husband) I’d say my fish curry is quite tasty!
Q. What’s your message for the big community of parents and children?
A. In my time, there was no sports awareness. I still managed to achieve a lot in my life. Children these days have all the facilities. I just want them to identify their strong points and work hard on them. And parents, pull your children away from the computer and TV and send them outdoors to play! You will then see a remarkable change in every aspect of their lives.
The great athlete's words of wisdom about fitness and taking up a sport is inspiration enough for all children and parents to get off the couch and choose a sport of their choice.
Hall of Fame
- Set Asian Record with a scintillating run at the 1984 Olympics. Missed the bronze by 0.01 seconds
- Became ‘Asia’s Sprint Queen’ by winning 4 golds and 1 silver at the 1986 Seoul Asian Games, and was presented the Golden Shoe.
- Holds World Record for most gold medals in a track meet. 5 golds in the 1985 Asian Track & Field Meet in Jakarta
- Honoured with Arjuna and Padma Sri awards in 1984
Youngest Indian sprinter to compete in Olympics (1980 Moscow)
Athletic Academies you can check out:
1. Sports Authority of India
Where: Multiple locations
How to enrol: Summer programmes, early induction programmes, talent scouting by coaches
What to look out for: 'Come and play' programme, which encourages youth from local communities and sports enthusiasts with an opportunity to train under SAI coaches
Whom to contact: Regional Sports Authrority centres in state capitals
More details: www.sportsauthorityofindia.nic.in
2. Ashwini Nachappa Sports Foundation
Where: Gonikoppal (Coorg)
How to enrol: ASF Nurture, ASF Catalyst and ASF Advanced
What to look out for: World class facilities at high altitude
Whom to contact: Officials at 08274 - 279457
More details: http://www.asfedge.org
3. Indian Athletic Academy
Where: Jayanagar, Bengaluru
What to look out for: Group Classes
Whom to contact: 096633 30444
More details: http://indianathleticacademy.com/
Where: Goregoan (West), Mumbai
What to look out for: Track and field coaching, Speed agility and mobility training, Marathon coaching
Whom to contact: +91 9324903409
More details: http://proathletes.co.in/
5. Tata Athletics Academy
Where: Jamshedpur, Jharkhand
What to look out for: Middle and long-distance courses
Whom to contact: +91 (657) 242 6992
More details: http://www.tatanagar.com/index.php/about-city/sports.html
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