I was a sluggish, lazy girl when I was admitted to my boarding school (Wynberg Allen, Mussoorie). I was a little above average in studies, poor at anything co-curricular and really bad at sports!
There was a rule there that every one, irrespective of any and everything, had to participate in every sport/field event. Participation gave house points and the respective captains ensured that each one participated.
And so did I. In every race, I never ran. I jogged. In every jump, I simply jumped regardless of any aim. And in every other event, I simply 'participated'!
That was to change. We were in class/grade 5 then. It was the heats of 400 mtrs race, which meant that we had to take two rounds of the field. As usual, I was jogging and so were the others. You are taught to save your energy in the first round and sprint in the 2nd. While others intended exactly that, I had other plans. To Jog.
At the beginning of the 2nd round, one of our teachers, Mr. Inglis, came to the tracks and tried to buck me up. "Giggler(that's what he had nicknamed me), Run!!" I smiled back at him and continued jogging. The next thing I knew was that he instructed Mr. Cashmore's (our Dining Hall incharge) pet dog, Tricksy, to run after me.
I ran for my life! I seriously ran for that 2nd round, not for the race, but for the fear of a madly-running creature from the canine species biting me. I even ran much beyond the finishing line only to realize that Tricksy had conveniently stopped at Mr. Inglis' side by then!
While I tried to decipher what had happened, everyone cam running to congratulate me. I had won that race!!! For the first time in my life, I ran and I won!
Mr. Inglis stood there, smiling victoriously. I ran and hugged him. I was crying with happiness and the realization that I, too, had it in me.
This incident took place almost 17 years ago. Yet, it comes back to me whenever I see running tracks. It was like the birth of a new 'me', a person who was now bubbling with energy and confidence; a person who suddenly was ready to take on any challenge on any stage. And there has been no looking back since then.
Mr. Inglis is no more but his smiling face still motivates me to give it all my best.
Since I moved to Delhi, athletics, sports, running, tracks - all these words became alien to me. If walking on the paved path in the park can be counted, count that one in.
So you know how excited I got when told that there's a Sports Day being organized last Saturday.
The moment I saw those tracks in Thyaagraj Stadium (INA, Delhi), I felt an instant high. Out of practice and form, they were enough to lift my spirits.
While the men's heats were going on, I tried to assess the ground. It was a professional's ground. I tried to brush aside the tenderness I could feel in the pit of my stomach. On the outside, I was this cool, smiling person, while the athlete within me was all shaky and nervous.
A friend tried to calm me down, but on seeing another girl's speed exclaimed, "Neha, she's really fast. Don't worry, you'll come 2nd." That sure did nothing to calm me, instead made me more nervous!
The events happened one after another and each one surprised me. Despite running on such tracks after over 8 long years, I was able to not only perform, but also win medals.
The grand prize for the Best Sports Man and Woman was a trophy and a Sony LCD TV!
And guess what, I won that!!!
Along with these prizes, I've even got a bad suntan... but then, it was all worth it!!
The one person I really missed that day was Dadaji. He would have been ecstatic to hear about it. And the one person I really want to thank is Mr. Inglis. I could never really get around to tell him what a change he had brought into my life and what confidence he had blessed me with. From a shy lazy little girl to an athlete - I owe it all to him.
At the end of the term the following year, he had filled my slam book with these words - Life is like a sheet of snow. Be careful of each step you take as they leave a mark behind. I did not understand these words then, but they've been ever since etched in my memory.
Thank you, Mr. Inglis. These are all for you!