Age no bar: 88-year-old setting track & field on fire, shooting for the stars | Chandigarh News

In the realm of , where youth often dominates, an octogenarian’s passion and dedication is transcending the constraints of age. , 88, is rewriting the narrative of athleticism and stands as a living testament to the perseverance and enduring power of the human will.

Born in May 1936, Saunkhla’s interest in blossomed during his school years, marking the inception of his sporting journey. After completing school, he joined the Postal Department in 1959 and was posted to Chandigarh in 1960. After serving in the ‘City Beautiful’ for eight years, he later joined the Army Postal Service (APS) on deputation in 1968.

Saunkhla fulfilled duties in various states bordering Pakistan, China, Bhutan, Myanmar, and Bangladesh, including high-altitude service in Jammu and Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh. His diverse experiences also led to his deployment in Sri Lanka with the Indian Peace-Keeping Force (IPKF) from 1987 to 1989. In the early 1990s, he returned to his parent department, retiring as assistant director, Postal Services in 1994. During the latter part of his service, Saunkhla initiated his participation in athletic tournaments in Haryana under the Masters Athletic Association, continuing regularly post-retirement.

Representing Haryana in national competitions, the octogenarian achieved remarkable feats. In the 29th National Masters Championships (NMAC) in 2008, he won the individual gold medal in triple jump at the age of 72, breaking a 15-year-old national record. He also participated in various Asian Masters Championships (AMACs), winning multiple medals across different countries.

Festive offer

His journey extended to the global stage at the World Masters Athletics Championships (WMAC) in the US (2011) and Brazil (2013), securing commendable positions in triple jump and 400-metre races. Despite facing obstacles in subsequent championships due to injuries and financial constraints, Saunkhla emerged triumphant at the 44th NMAC in Pune, where he captured four gold and one silver medals.

His remarkable career boasts 33 gold, 16 silver, and seven bronze medals at the Nationals, totaling 56. On the Asian stage, he clinched six gold, three silver, and eight bronze medals, summing up to 17 overall. His stellar performance at the 44th NMAC in 2024 and consistent achievements throughout various championships culminated in him being crowned the “Best Athlete of the Year 2023.”

Inspired by Milkha Singh

“Since my childhood, I harboured a profound fondness for , especially in athletics, badminton, and shooting ball. In 1990, during a vacation in Chandigarh, witnessing the National Championship sparked my interest, discovering that various age groups could participate. This ignited my journey into becoming a full-time athlete, fostering a lasting affection, passion, and internal love for . Additionally, former Indian track and field sprinter Milkha Singh greatly inspired me throughout my career,” shared Saunkhla.

Beyond athleticism

The octogenarian’s athletic pursuits extended beyond track and field events, actively participating in shooting ball and badminton tournaments. He showcased his skills at the interstate level in shooting ball and held the distinction of being the oldest playing member of the Paramount Shooting Ball Club, Chandigarh, active since 1966. Despite an ankle injury in 2018, he shifted his focus away from shooting ball.

From 2006, Saunkhla started making valuable contributions to the Ashwini Gupta Memorial (AGM) Championships, organised by the AGM Trust founded by Gian Chand Gupta, Speaker, Haryana Vidhan Sabha. Gupta oversees a sports promotion society awarding cash prizes to Panchkula medal winners. The society has annually recognised the 88-year-old for his outstanding achievements.

Injuries and comebacks

Navigating a sports career is fraught with challenges, including injury setbacks, recovery, and making comebacks. Saunkhla faced these challenges multiple times, sustaining 4-5 major injuries, experiencing road accidents in 2004 and 2018, and undergoing surgeries. Despite medical advice to stay away from sports for a year after a road accident in 2018, Saunkhla’s indomitable willpower led him back to the field within six months, which ultimately led to a gold at the nationals.

His mantra for overcoming injuries is straightforward. “My passion and love for the game help me deal with it,” the octogenarian athlete said.

Disciplined routine and strict diet

Maintaining health and physique in his late 80s necessitates a disciplined daily routine, involving physical and physiotherapy exercises, thorough warm-ups before intense activities, and cooling down exercises post-training. Saunkhla finds balance and relaxation through regular participation in yoga and meditation, contributing significantly to unwinding and rejuvenating his body.

Regarding his daily diet, Saunkhla adheres to a carefully curated, balanced intake, including wholesome elements like whole and ground dals, roti, rice, fresh vegetables, various dry and seasonal fruits, milk, ample quantities of fresh and warm water, and salads.

Setting sight on the ultimate prize

Saunkhla unveiled his future aspirations, aiming to set a new benchmark in the world of sports by winning a medal at the World Championship in Sweden later this year.

Despite shouldering all expenses, from travel tickets to accommodations, during his travels to countries like Malaysia, Thailand, Taiwan, China, Japan, and the Philippines, Saunkhla exemplifies the boundless possibilities achievable with eagerness and enthusiasm for one’s life goals.

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