When veteran athlete Dr. Vasantha Samuel from Coimbatore was selected to represent India at the XX Asian Masters’ Athletics’ Championship in China in September this year, the niggling question was whether she would be able to get sponsorships to make that trip.
This was in May.
Fast forward to October, the champion athlete did not just make it to China, but is back with three medals – one gold and two silver. And, this she has achieved in the 80+ category, in which she took part for the first time.
Having won more than 500 medals in her over 30-year span as a veteran athlete, this three medal haul is not a big feat, but what makes it special is that she has won it in her debut Asian meet in the 80+ category. And, it is a memorable one for her as she had to win her gold in pouring rain.
“The Chinese do not believe in postponing anything. So though it rained the whole day the high jump and long jump events were scheduled, they went ahead with them. My shorts and shoes were dripping and heavy and I could not even see the cross bar, leave alone jump across it. But somehow I made it to the gold,” she recollects her experience at Rugao Jaingsu, China, from September 24-28.
A well-known name in the Masters’ Athletics circuit, Dr. Samuel, a homoeopath by profession, is the eldest sportsperson among the 400 member Coimbatore District Masters’ Athletics Association. She was part of the 280-strong contingent that represented India in China. Lakshmi Loganthan is another veteran from Coimbatore to win one gold and two silver medals in the 70+ category.
The octogenarian won silver in long jump and triple jump. And, she is in awe of her competitor from Chinese Taipei who beat her in these two events as she says “she was better than me beyond a shadow of doubt”.
Dr. Samuel is also appreciative of the hospitality of the Chinese and fondly remembers how people were eager to take pictures with her after her medal haul. Though communication was a problem, it did not stop the women from complimenting her in sign language on her well-tailored salwar suits and neatly made hair bun.
Though she should be fired up and on the track practising for the next Asian Meet and also the World Masters’ Meet in 2018, Dr. Samuel has decided to stick to her decision of not taking part in any events outside India.
When she spoke to TNM in May this year, she was looking for sponsors for the Asian Meet in China, and had mentioned that if she failed to get the amount she would not go. She was also determined that even if she made it to China, that would be her last Asian / International outing as she did not want to indulge in “royal begging” to get herself sponsored.
The manner in which she got sponsorship for the China Meet is a very interesting one. Initially she could muster Rs. 50,000 from a few companies and clubs. It so happened that her homoeopath son Dr. Dheeraj Samuel and his friends from a WhatsApp group were discussing knee and joint pains associated with old age. Dr. Dheeraj was trying to convince the group members that all this was in the mind and did not have anything to do with age, and gave the example of his mother and how she was preparing to go for the September meet.
The group members were not convinced and Dr. Dheeraj had to send them the link of her story published in TNM. They were not only convinced but also determined to send her to China and the money transfers that these members made enabled Dr. Samuel to get more than Rs. 1 lakh.
After this, she did not have to run around for more sponsorships and she was able to devote all her time to her practise without having to worry about her expenses. But this experience and her China win do nothing to deter her from her decision to stay away from international events.
She is “not interested in spending her time and energy in winning medals for a country that does not support” her and hasn’t given her any recognition. She would however keep her passion alive by continuing to participate in the district /state/national events, for which at least a partial payment for travel is made by the Government.