What is also remarkable about Dagar’s achievement is not only her age but that she took up athletics only in December last year.
Bhagwani Devi epitomises the enthusiastic, modern elderly who doesn’t let age stand in her way to attaining excellence. She is an inspiring role model for the old. Her achievement must be celebrated.
“I had won three gold medals in the state and national championships in India. So, I wasn’t familiar with the bronze colour and wasn’t happy with it,” smiled Dagar, who lives in Najafgarh.
Dagar, who has studied up to Class V, considers her grandson, para athlete Vikas Dagar, her role model. He is also her coach now.
“I used to look at the wall in our house that is adorned with my grandson’s pictures and certificates. Like him, I have earned medals for the country and it feels great,” she beamed. It was Vikas who handed her a shot put ball and though she wasn’t immediately enamoured, she asked for the iron ball the very next morning.
Neither age nor bypass surgery stops Najafgarh dadi from going for gold
Bhagwani Devi Dagar, 94, who returned with a medal haul from the World Masters Athletics Championships in Tampere, Finland, trains light and as for diet, banks on good old ghar ka khana which includes milk, chapatis and pulses.
Dagar began her training only around six months ago under the guidance of her grandson, 38-year-old Vikas, a para athlete. After he handed her the shot put wondering what she would make of it, “my grandmother said she wanted to throw the iron ball and I realised she had an innate interest”, said Vikas. “I took her to Kakrola Stadium, thinking let’s see how much she can do.”
There was no looking back for the nonagenarian. Four months after stepping on the stadium turf and taking up sprints, shot put and discus, Dagar won three gold medals in the Delhi state masters championships on April 1-2 and three more in the national masters championships on April 26-May 2. She had come a long way from her indulgence in kabaddi as a child in her paternal village of Khedka, in Haryana.
The people who crowded to congratulate Dagar on her return to Delhi on Tuesday perhaps don’t realise how many challenges she has overcome to become a world champion. When she was 29 years old and pregnant, she lost her husband. Her daughter died at the age of 11 and in 2007, Dagar underwent a bypass surgery.
Unlike other athletics who spend hours daily in rigorous training, the elder star practises for an hour two-three days a week. “At her age, we think warm-up exercises and sessions on techniques are adequate,” said Vikas, a Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna awardee. “We don’t do rigorous training because my grandmother could suffer injuries due to her age.”
Dagar, of course, makes it a point to remain fit and healthy. Starting her day at 6am, every day, she walks 2km each morning and evening. “Our house is three-storied and I have to use the stairs to reach the terrace to water the plants,” said Dagar. She eats only home-cooked food and says, “I survive on desi khana and love milk, pulses, chapatis, vegetables and fruits.”
The high-spirited woman wants to next win gold in the World Masters Athletics Indoor Championship to be held in Poland in March next year. She has an impish nature and when asked why she did not smile for photographers, she quipped that she had no teeth. Then, in grandmotherly fashion, she added, “I want today’s children to run and jump a lot.” Amen!