After the unkindest cut of all, this ex-army cross country runner decided to turn his life around with a newfound hobby that has led to many an award and accolade
It’s not always that one gets a second chance at life. And more often than not, when faced with a serious setback like the one faced by Lance Naik Anandan Gunasekaran, a Bengaluru-based blade runner, the easiest path to take would be to shy away from life by wallowing in self pity and depression. But Anandan, an ex-army man who lost a limb while on duty in Jammu and Kashmir in 2009, decided to give it his all to overcome the blow that he was dealt and took to para-athletics barely four years ago. Formerly, a cross country runner, the young man’s zest for life was rewarded when he won silver and gold medals at the recently concluded World Military Games, held in Mungyeong, South Korea.
“It was really hard in the early days and there were times when I was completely weighed down by my immobility. But you get used to it after a while. I didn’t want to let go of my love for athletics and I’m glad I wasn’t hurt badly enough to stay away from athletics permanently,” shares 29-year-old Anandan, whose father is an auto rickshaw driver in Kumbakonam, Tamil Nadu, where he hails from, and his mother is a home-maker.
It was in 2005 that Anandan enrolled with Madras Engineering Group and Centre in Bengaluru, where he honed his athletic skills. In 2008, he was posted to Jammu and Kashmir where the explosion at the Indian border turned his life upside down. “The landmine was completely covered with snow so we didn’t know what it was. As it exploded, I felt a horrible stab of pain in my leg and passed out. The other platoons helped me reach the hospital where they were forced to amputate my leg from the knee down. I lay recuperating for six months and didn’t tell my parents about it during that time,” recalls Anandan, a product of Native Higher Secondary School in Kumbakonam.
MEG sponsored him with a running blade and it was just the thing he needed to help turn his life around. Naming the controversial blade runner, Oscar Pistorius as his source of inspiration, Anandan reveals how the early days were anything but easy. “It was extremely painful in the beginning and I kept falling. My legs would be swollen and sometimes bleed. But I didn’t want to give up. This was my one chance and I wanted to push myself till I was absolutely certain that I couldn’t do it. I owe it to my wife, Dhanalakshmi, for supporting me and standing by me all through,” he says.
After he failed to qualify for the National Games on the first try, he went on to win gold in various categories after giving it another shot. Apart from the World Military Games, Anandan has also bagged medals in the IPC Athletics Grand Prix in Tunis and the Asian Para Games last year. “I’ve always wanted to travel and it’s only after my injury that I’ve been able to travel all over the world,” he shares.
A typical day for the paralympian begins with a three-hour training session involving squats, jogging, weight training and yoga, all of which are repeated in the evening. “Yoga really helps. I recommend it for everyone, not just sportsmen like me,” he says. Now with his eyes set on the Paralympics to be held in Rio, Brazil in 2016, Anandan reveals why it is so important to him. “There’s no blade runner from Asia in the Paralympics level so my plan is to be the only Asian in the category and represent India on the international circuit. It’s an uphill task from here but I’m hoping to take my winning streak forward,” he says....