From earning Rs 5-10 at dangals, to becoming India’s best racewalker: Olympian Sandeep’s inspiring journey

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With a long list of local legends to get inspired from, Haryana youth have chosen conventional sports. But Sandeep Kumar – who hails from Haryana’s Mahendragarh – opted for a not so popular sport and chose to be a racewalker.

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The 35-year-old’s decision has paid off for he will now be representing the country at Tokyo Olympics, which will be his second Games. Sandeep represented India in the 50km race walking event at the Rio Olympics and is a national level record holder in 20km and 50km. This time, he will be participating in the 20 km category and hopes for a much-improved show this time.

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However, his journey has been nothing short of a roller coaster both on a personal as well as on the professional front. While speaking with MyKhel, Sandeep recalled his childhood as he lost his mother at an early age learnt how to strike a balance between home chores and his education.

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Youngest of the three siblings, Sandeep spent the least time with his mother before she left the mortal world, and said, “I was 7-years-old when I lost my mother. Since then it was never going to be a normal childhood for me. I used to work with my father in farms and looked after the cattle after attending school.”

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Sandeep also remembers those days when the income at home was meagre and they used to depend on their cattle for money because produce from the farm was not much due to inconsistent rains.

Like most of the young boys in Haryana, Sandeep too tried his hands at wrestling and used to compete at Dangals in nearby villages, to earn Rs 5-10 to and meet his basic needs. “During my childhood and teenage days, I used to fight in Dangals in nearby villages and earn 5-10 rupees per fight and make money,” he added further.

The hardships of the early days made Sandeep strong and joining the Indian Army after completing 12th, a decision that changed his life for good. Now, a Subedar in the Indian Army, Sandeep credits the decision of joining the Army as life-changing. But getting recruited and clearing the test wasn’t easy for him either.

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“I studied till 12th and joined the Jat regiment (Bareily) of Indian Army in December 2006. Those were really hard times and joining the Army changed my life. I went to the Indian Army open recruitment test and cleared it. I still remember that I travelled to another city and only spent 36 rupees throughout the day and was relieved to be selected and here I am now, representing my country in Olympics for the second time,” Sandeep recalled.

Talking about how he chose race walking in the Indian Army, “When I joined the Army, I did very well in my training and shone among 180 cadets and in 2008. Captain Sitaram, a former race walker who boasts of many National and Army records, advised me to start race walking and personally trained me.”

Talking about the life during the COVID-19 imposed nationwide lockdown last year he was at the SAI centre in Bangalore for two months and used to train in his room. He came back to his village in May 2020 and ploughed his farms with a tractor so that he can train there for the next 4-5 months.

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Talking about his training in the last year and Sandeep believes he’s better prepared for the 20km race. “I am a much better and smarter Athlete this time around and have improved tremendously. My timing in 20 km has always been not too far from podium finishes and at an event like Olympics, with better Athletes around, I will push myself to clock a better score,” he added.

Sandeep is backed by Pune based Sports NGO Lakshya, which supports him with monthly scholarships and helps him buy equipment and cover basic expenses.

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