She is the oldest athlete practicing on the tracks of Punjabi University Patiala. Mann Kaur who turned 101 years old this year, has many records to her name. She has won four gold medals in the World Masters Athletics Championships in 100 meters, 200 meters, javelin throw and shot put. The sprightly centurion broke the previous record of an American lady in 100 m by three seconds. She also broke the Guinness World Record for javelin with a throw of 5.12 meters! That the 101-year-old Mann Kaur is an inspiration is an understatement. After winning four gold medals at American Masters Games held in Vancouver this year, the 101-year-old moved to Punjabi University Patiala from Chandigarh, so that she can practice on a better track for the next year’s world master’s athletics championship!
Mann Kaur was approached by the Punjab government after her stupendous performance in the World Master’s Championship. When asked if she needed assistance, Kaur demanded that she needed better tracks to practice. The government then offered her training facilities at the Punjabi University campus along with a lodging facility. She has never let age dictate life, and Kaur and her 79-year-old son Gurdev Singh who is also an athlete in his age group, immediately moved from Chandigarh to the Patiala campus. Now, both Mann and son Gurdev can be seen in the throes of practice at the university. Mann herself works the track every alternate day, completing five sprints of 50 meters or 30 meters, and sometimes even 100 meters. “When I hear people clapping and egging me on to run, it motivates and encourages me to run again and again,” says Mann Kaur, enthusiastically.
Gurdev feels a balanced diet is the most important reason for his mother’s admirable fitness. “I give her soya milkshake every morning which I make at home. The chapatis she eats are made of wheat sprouts, she also has nuts and a special yogurt,” says Singh. Although Mann started participating in athletic championships at the age of 93, she was very fit from the beginning. She had three children — two sons and a daughter and her husband used to work with the Maharaja of Patiala, Bhupinder Singh, and even he lived till the age of 102! Mann Kaur was also employed by the Maharaja, and served as a help to the queens. She remembers that all the support staff would go to Chail (a hill station near Shimla) in the summers along with the queens. “I used to serve food to the queens and would eat a sumptuous meal too,” she recalls.
Even after she stopped working with the Maharaja, she led a very active life. She recalls tending to a cow at home, milking it herself, along with the cattle while doing household chores without any help. She would carry 20 kg vegetables from the market to her home. “I used to milk the cattle, grind wheat with a hand mill, wash all the clothes, prepare meals for the family, and go to the market all by myself. We never had any help in those days,” she says. Apart from her diet, Mann lives a very disciplined and focused life. She rarely eats out, or goes to people’s homes. Very particular about when sleeps, she is early to bed, and early to rise. Even at the ripe old age of 101, Kaur sleeps soundly. “Before I came to Patiala, I used to get up atleast four times at night. Since I started practicing, I only get up once,” says Mann with a smile.
Recalling his mother’s mammoth achievements, her son who started living with her after his own wife passed away 20 years ago, beams with pride, “My mother won two gold medals while participating in the World Masters Athletics, 2011 held at Sacramento (in the 100 m and 200 m races) and both were world records. She was declared athlete of the year too. In 2012, she participated in the Asian Masters Athletics Championships held at Taipai in Taiwan, and won a gold medal in 100 m race. Similarly, in 2013 she won five gold medals in the Canadian Masters Athletics Championships held at Regiana. She also took part in the Huntsman World Senior Games with 10,000 participants from across the world, and she won five gold medals, in shot put and javelin too, breaking world records. She is the only lady athlete from India to hold four world records in her age group! Her name is in the Limca Book of Records 2016 edition.”
But looking back at this medal spree, Gurdev recalls how it all started when he returned from Canada, where he had seen old Canadian ladies running and participating in masters championships. “I then realised that my mother could also run like them, as she was very fit. I just encouraged her to run, and the rest is history,” says Gurdev Singh. Mann Kaur is now preparing for the 2018 Masters Championship in Spain, and she will be 102 when she takes part! “God willing, she will break some more records,” beams Gurdev Singh with confidence.