AT 102, the Patiala born athlete Man Kaur has her eyes on the 2021 World Masters Games.
If you chart the shelf life of an athlete on a graph, the line would start anywhere in their teens and stop at a median between 35-40 — where most of them have either turned to coaching or are catching sunsets by the sea in the afterglow of their successful careers. But for 102-year-old Man Kaur, her game has only just begun. In addition to 20 gold medals at various track-and-field competitions around the world, she also marks her foray into Javelin after sweeping the gold medal at the 2018 World Masters in Malaga, Spain.
For the last three decades, the undefeatable PT Usha and Flying Sikh Milkha Singh have been the poster children of sprinting in India. But Man Kaur's unassailable feats now share the spotlight.
Her aged visage bears no resemblance to the hardy countenance of a track-and-field athlete, but her gumption can surpass even the best in the game. Man Kaur started her career as a sports woman at the ripe age of 93, when the second of her three children, Gurdev Singh, initiated her into the heady world of athletics. The 80-year-old Gurdev is an athlete himself and has competed in the World Masters Games — the world’s largest sports event for older athletes — several times. He doubles up as her coach and comforter at all times.
It was at one of these competitions abroad that he noticed older athletes his mother’s age dart towards the finish line like age was just a number. “I would see many people of her age participate in athletics. I realised that she didn’t have any health problems as such, so why not get her to join sports,” he narrates. At the age of 94, for the first time, Man Kaur participated in the 100 meter races at the Nationals in Chandigarh and her timing went on to clock a new record. “A 95-year-old woman held the record before her, but she (Man Kaur) was better than her. So the president of the Masters Athletic Federation of India told us to compete in America the following year,” he explains.
In 2011, the duo arrived in America when Man Kaur was 95-years-old. There, she ran the 150 and 200-meter races and yet again set new world records under both these categories.
The centenarian breaks into a heart melting, graceful little jig after every win. “People wanted to meet her and click photographs with her, she was everywhere in the newspaper and on television. She was overwhelmed by the response,” informs Gurdev.
In 2016 in Canada, she clocked a record time of one minute and 21 seconds, which was unthinkable for any woman her age. When the mother-son duo returned to Patiala and began training at the university, her timing began to improve further. Quite often in a 100-meter race, to be able to recover even a split second or improve upon it, is unachievable. However, Man Kaur went on to blaze the trail further.
“In 2017, when we went to New Zealand for the Masters Championship, there was already an existing record set by an American woman that was one minute and 17 seconds. But my mother beat her by three seconds, at one minute and 14 seconds. She not only beat her own self, but went on to become a record holder.” says the proud son.
Her New Zealand record is just a mere 64.42 seconds off Usain Bolt’s 100 meter world record set in 2009. It was at this point that the global media gave her the epithet, ‘Miracle from Chandigarh’
This year, the 102-year-old athlete has clinched her second successive medal at the World Masters Athletics Championship in Malaga, Spain by winning the 200 meter in three minutes and 14.65 seconds.
Gurdev reveals that the secret to Man Kaur’s health lies in her, “all natural diet.”
While most athletes rely on protein powders and other stimulants for faster results in performance, Gurdev says it invariably affects them later in life. Which also explains why most athletes have early retirements.
Her day begins with Russian fermented milk or Kefir, followed by rotis made out of sprouted wheat for lunch and a glass of wheat grass juice in the evening. She also consumes soy milk twice a day for her protein intake.
Kaur has worked for over 20 years as the caretaker to the queens of Maharaja Bhupinder Singh and Maharaja Yadavindra Singh of Patiala and their children including the Chief Minister of Punjab, Amarinder Singh.
Last year, when they invited her to Patiala as the chief guest for the marathon, she stayed at the palace. It was by far one of the most emotional moments of her life, says Gurdev, “The same bed the queens once slept on were offered to my mother. At the same place she once worked as a maid, she stayed like a queen.” he puts it emphatically.
While most of Gurdev’s family members reprimand him for putting his 102-year-old mother under undue physical stress, he brushes that aside to inform us about their future plans. In 2019, Man Kaur will be participating in the World Masters Athletics in Poland and then at the World Masters in Toronto followed by the 2021 World Master Games in Japan.
“People always tell me, what is the use of all this? And I tell them, the quality of her life is improving anyway, plus the happiness and sense of achievement is unmatched. It’s all happening by the grace of God.”