When eight out of twenty one footballers including the captain were from the tiny state of Manipur for 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup, it was stated in the Indian Express, a premier national daily paper in its 28th September 2017 edition that most of them did not have balance and nourishing diet and had to depend on the scratch meals provided by their daily wage earning parents. Their parents could hardly afford the sports shoes and balance diet.
The same can be said of most of the Olympians of the state in the past and present, including Soubam Suresh. They all shared the common denominator – impoverished family backgrounds.
Soubam Suresh Singh, son of S. Shyam Singh and Memcha Devi of Sega Road Khwairakpam Leirak, now serving as Inspector in the Central Industrial Security Forces had to face a number of struggles at the beginning of his journey in becoming an Olympian. To become a boxer he had to face several troubles and barriers. The main requirements for becoming a boxer for Suresh at the beginning were standard kits, proper diets, coach, gruelling training and rigorous practice. But, to him the most difficult hurdles were to get necessary kits particularly a pair of sports shoe and systematic preparation of diets. He had no the capacity to have kits and proper food as he belonged to a family which was not in a position to afford them.
He was the third child of seven siblings. He started playing football in the open space called Bimol Engkhol during early 1990s. One of his local brothers advised him to try boxing. It was love at first sight. He took a liking to boxing immediately and the sports became his passion.
He started to play the game using pieces of clothes bound around his hand to substitute for gloves. At that time he could not imagine purchasing a pair of boxing gloves from the market as there was no way his family could afford it.
Fortunately, he could get the chance to play the game at KYDC, Konjeng Hajari Leikai, Imphal which is in his locality. He thought of playing in tournaments and imagined how to reach inside a boxing ring. At about 12-13 years of age, he alone went to Khuman Lampak Sports Complex and somehow met Oja Ibomcha, the boxing Coach. He was so lucky that the Oja asked him to come regularly for training of the game.
Going Khuman Lampak from his residence on foot was not easy by he somehow managed this, but his main problem was purchasing kits. He somehow purchased a pair of shoes which was popularly known as Moreh shoe at the price of Rs 70/-. The shoes were also known as Moreh Boot which had thick sole with high heel of camouflage colour. It was however not suitable for running, but he had no option except to purchase it, as the price of sports shoes was very high and beyond his reach.
He used to run as a part of Boxing Roadwork every day during day time and in the morning he went to Khuman Lampak for boxing practice. Wearing that kind boots he ran as practice at about 11 am or 11.30 am every day at Airport Road, Imphal. Some of the people who saw him running with the camouflage boot at that hour thought this as very odd, and some of them treated him as abnormal young man.
His running at roadside at day time was more than just running. Running is an essential part of the comprehensive system of the training. Outdoor running on road and also in street have specific advantages for boxer. Hence, did not allow the unwanted remarks from the people to bother him, and kept his mind fixed on his target of becoming a good boxer by adapting to circumstances of nature and improving stamina, endurance, strength, speed etc.
On ‘running’ Muhammad Ali, the boxing legend once remarked that he learned to run until he was tired, then run even more after that. Suresh had a memorable photograph taken together with Ali at Sydney,2000. Unfortunately, the using of his boot with hard sole and heel resulted in sharp pain in his knees, and his feet were sore with a lot of pain and swelling. Boxer’s running shoes should specially be designed to make it more comfortable and also helpful to keep safe from injury.
However, he continued to run to reach his target thinking that the pain and sore would subside in the course of time. Later on, he felt that it was necessary to change the sole of the boots as he still could not have capacity to purchase new shoes suitable for running. Accordingly, he decided to cut the layer of the hard soles and heels for replacing with soft soles.
He purchased the required soles and adhesive. The soles were replaced by a cobbler. Thus, he somehow managed his requirement of shoes which he did not forget in his future course of life. He continued his routine of roadwork running. His practice of running was not only helpful to his playing of boxing but also game him confidence to even participate in marathon races.
Though his intension of running was not for running like marathon race, he participated in a marathon race which was held before the 5th National Game of India in 1999, and to his surprise he stood the third position. Using the prize money he purchased a pair of sports shoes of high quality for the first time in his life. This was a very significant and unforgettable memory in his life. The prize money was so precious to him that it created an ever striking memory in his life that the money was used to pay the price of a pair of sports shoes from his own earning and that also for the first time could fulfil his long desire of having a pair of high quality sports shoe of his own.
Subsequently, on seeing his progress in the performance of the game, some of the boxing sympathisers and those who appreciated his endeavour supported him to take his standard up to national and international levels. His small poultry unit was also very helpful in supporting his career in boxing.
His first Gold Medal at the Sub-Junior National Boxing Championship held at Allahabad in 1995 which was his first participation at the national level had enkindled his hope of participation in Olympic Games in one or other days though the journey might be long enough and difficult. In fact, he could fulfil his hope by participating in the Olympic Games at Sydney in 2000.
To him the most important two of his sorrows and sufferings in his life were his unfulfilled desire to purchase a pair of sports shoe at the beginning of his carrier and his suffering from a serious disease relating to tape warm which compelled him to stop playing in the crucial time of his career for about a year after Olympic Games. The psychological trauma and physical distress during the period of suffering from illness and inability to play for a considerable period to time at the prime time of his life was very painful to him.
Even today he cannot hold back tears whenever he remembers the situation where he was not able to purchase even a pair of sports shoes at the time when it was very much necessary. The impact of the situation was so deep that whenever he purchases any kind of shoes for him or family members it would be not less than two pairs. Suresh was very much interested in collection of sports shoes even though they were not required for him and his family.
We don’t know how many of our prospective players have had to face such unspoken hardships, and how many of them have even to stop playing for life; and again how many of them will have to experience such situation in future, and how many of us can feel their plight though all of us are mostly ready to welcome and appreciate them with rewards only when they have won laurels for our state or country with their extreme and utmost efforts.
The writer is a PhD Scholar, Manipur University and can be reached at: email@example.com