About 20 years ago, a small week long camp was held in my school. They made us run, stretch, play games, throw balls and finally selected a group from amongst us. This group was admitted to the incoming batch for gymnastics at the Mayo Hall Sports Complex, Allahabad.
This was the first time such camps were held in schools, the first time the administrators actively went out looking for potential. Similar camps were held at many schools in the city and there must have been about 150-200 eight year olds that were admitted to that first session at Mayo Hall. I was one of them.
The organizers were led by Dr UK Mishra and the head coach (who I think was Mr Ajay Sethi but I don’t remember his name for sure), two men who had represented India in gymnastics in the past. I remember Mishra Sir’s first speech, he said the aim was to create world class gymnasts for India, ones who could win medals for the country at the top level.
Trainings started and anyone who witnessed those sessions could have seen that these guys meant business. The equipment available probably wasn’t the best money could buy in those days but there was no shortage of ambition.
I owe it to those gymnastics sessions for introducing me to Mayo Hall. After a couple of months, I dropped out and moved on to lawn tennis, a game I played regularly for the next 10 years and have been playing irregularly after that. Many others dropped out as well but a couple of my classmates stuck on for the years that followed.
They represented the state of Uttar Pradesh in the National Games, some even got close to winning medals there. One has to remember that this was a start from scratch for the gymnastics establishment in Allahabad, the fact that the first batch of students went to the national level is a remarkable achievement.
I didn’t really keep in touch with the developments and gymnastics in Allahabad expanded out of Mayo Hall a few years later. Dad told me over the phone that Dr Mishra established his own Khelgaon Public School a while back. And yesterday, 20 years after that humble beginning, Ashish Kumar, a gymnast from Allahabad, won the first ever medal in gymnastics for India at the Commonwealth Games.
No one knew gymnastics in Allahabad (barely anyone cared for it in India) in 1989 and I guess it takes some special kind of people to persevere for 20 years, to keep the faith, to fight for an unknown cause. In a world where we want results immediately, where our long term horizon only stretches on till the next annual report, it’s good to know that there are people who have the vision to invest in infrastructure and give it the nurturing it needs, who understand that not everything is a quickfix, not everything is jugaad.
And thankfully, these people do succeed. There are many tales in life that you can look back upon to draw inspiration. This one is pretty close to the top of my list.
Addendum: Ashish Kumar added a silver medal to his tally today in the men’s vault gymnastic event at the Commonwealth Games.