400 from Maharashtra ran for him: ‘Every single runner sees a Milkha in himself’

While Flying Sikh Milkha Singh had been battling with the Covid-19 virus since last month, over 400 runners from Ichalkaranji in Kolhapur district of Maharashtra ran collectively in excess of 3,000 km in the industrial town on June 13 and June 14 respectively in honour of the legendary athlete and to send their wishes for the recovery of the 91-year-old former Commonwealth games champion and 1960 Rome Olympian.

The runners, who belong to various running groups in the textile industrial town, range from a seven-year-old to a 61-year-old woman apart from multiple Ironman and marathon runners from the city and had initially planned to complete 1,920 km, the distance between Ichalkaranji and Mohali but ran a collective total of 3,018 km in two days.

“While we had been organising virtual meeting to offer our wishes for the health of Milkha sir, we came up with this idea of running individually a combined distance of 1,920 km, which happens to be the distance from Ichalkaranji to Mohali. With the lockdown in Maharashtra, more than 330 runners in our town ran whatever distance they could on June 13 and June 14, and we completed running 3,018 km in total. We may have not gone to Chandigarh to meet Milkha sir in this tough time but we prayed for him,” said Vishal Chavan, who had thought of the Milkha run initially.

With the restrictions in place in Ichalkaranji, most of the runners out of the 330 runners ran in small groups on the busy roads of the industrial towns and outside some local stadiums. While there were ultra marathon runners like Swapnil Mane, Dr Amit Deshmukh, Amarpal Singh and Mahesh Mete running in small groups, there were also kids and elderly running in this unique run for the Flying Sikh. Bangkok-based 12-year-old Arsh Jamadar, who originally hails from Ichalkaranji, ran five km along with his father Riyaz Jamadar outside the neighborhood park in Bangkok. “Every kid has seen the movie Bhaag Milkha Bhaag. Milkha sir remains an inspiration for all kids. While the parks have not opened up, I ran on the road outside the park with my father too running 12 km to motivate me,” Arsh said.

Like Arsh, Saksham Enani (14) too ran five km with nine members of his family too joining him in the Milkha run. The family ran a combined total of 77 km.

“When my father told us about the run, all my cousins and family members decided to run to send our wishes to Milkha sir,” Saksham said.

Amarpal Kohli, who had competed in Iron Man event in Malaysia earlier, ran with his wife Baneet Kohli and 10-year-old son Mehervan Kohli. “Mikha sir is like God for all the runners and when we took part in this run, we were only thinking that we are running to meet him in real,” Singh said.

Sachin Khondre saw 43 members of his running group taking part in the two-day run and with runners out of practice, the group faced a challenge of endurance. “While there was an eight-year-old kid and 61-year-old woman in our group, most of us faced the challenge as we did not practise due to lockdown for the last three months. Yet, with the blessings of Milkha sir, we completed this run and every single step was like a wish for Milkha sir,” Sachin said.

Ultra marathon runner Dr Amit Deshmukh and his family ran a total of 51 km during the run. “When a kid or youngster starts running in our town, we address him as Milkha. That’s what he means for the running community and every single runner sees a Milkha in himself and gets inspired by the legend. We also offered condolences to his wife Nirmal Milkha Singh, who died earlier,” Deshmukh said.

As the news of the Flying Sikh’s demise reached the runners’ community, Vishal Chavan said, “We are saddened. Our whole group offers our heartfelt condolences to the departed soul of Milkha ji.”

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