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Learning from the masters: The queen of track and field PT Usha on how to get your child started with athletics

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Is your child interested to take up running? Look no further. In the first part of this new series, we get legendary athlete P T Usha to answer queries about getting children started with the sport

Pre-teen to Parent
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Learning from the masters: The queen of track and field PT Usha on how to get your child started with athletics

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 sportspeople to take up athletics. With a desire to give back to the sport, the Arjuna awardee is training athletes at her academy.

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?

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 of for kids? 

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 organize games such as running, basketball, volleyball, or football.

Q. What steps can parents take to encourage the present generation to eat healthily?

First, make your children aware of what they are eating and look for ways to make their favorite 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?

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 primitive things like shoes, shorts, good grounds, or company when it comes to exercise. All you need is inner determination.

Q. Can physical fitness improve academic performance? 

Yes of course, in so many ways! There are many lessons to be learned. 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 are huge fans of the Payyoli Express! Growing up, who were your idols? 

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? 

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 of nutrition and fitness needs to be spread among children as well as their parents.

Q. What does PT Usha do in her leisure? 

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 favorite thing to do is clean the house and cook some good food!

Q. What's your favorite 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?

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

  • 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 the World Record for most gold medals in a track meet. 5 golds in the 1985 Asian Track & Field Meet in Jakarta
  • Sets Asian Record with a scintillating run at the 1984 Olympics. Missed the bronze by 0.01 seconds
  • Youngest Indian sprinter to compete in Olympics (1980 Moscow)

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