During his school days, he used to have unlimited meals only after a race when the coach/manager took the boys to a hotel for lunch.
“Otherwise, it was always ‘pazhaya soru’ (rice soaked in water). Idli will be only during festive days. Lunch will be the midday meals provided in the school. Even in the college hostel canteen, the food quantity was limited,” Tokyo-bound sprinter Rajiv Arokia told IANS.
It is a different matter now that the nutrient-rich ‘pazhaya soru’ finds a place on some restaurant menu cards. But it is still a poor man’s food.
Hailing from Vazhudaiyur village near Tiruchirappalli, 30-year old Arokia discontinued his college studies in the middle of his first year BA (History) course to join the army.
“I was not able to perform well in inter-university meet. The coach told me that I should take good food to do well at the university level. Not wanting to burden my family further and to pursue my running, I joined the army as a sepoy,” said Arokia.
But athletics runs in his blood as his father Y.Soundararajan was a district champion in 100m, 200m and long jump and had participated in state meets during his younger days.
Soundararajan was a college bus driver in Tiruchirappalli district while mother Lily Chandran was a daily wager and the couple had three children — Rajiv, Daniel Ranjith and Elizabeth Rani.
“After I won the district race, father had told mother to give me two eggs a day,” he said.
Rajiv has proved the old Tamil saying, ‘Thai 8 adi paainthaal, kutti 16 adi paayum’ (if the mother jumps eight feet, then its cub will jump 16 feet), right.
Son of a district champion, Arokia has won the 400m bronze at the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon, gold at the Asian Grand Prix held in Thailand and Sri Lanka and in several other international events, including silver in the World Military Games in 2015.
In 2017, Arokia was honoured with the prestigious Arjuna Award.
“I always used to look back at the path I had come from. Our house was a small hut. Now life is better. But I haven’t forgotten my roots.”
Though he has won several medals, the 2014 Asian Games bronze has a special place in his heart.
At that time, Arokia was recovering from a hamstring injury he had suffered a month earlier and people were saying his participation was a wasted chance.
Proving his detractors wrong, he won bronze.
“Asian Games is a big race. It was the best moment in my life,” he said.
In 2018, Arokia was part of the Indian team that won gold in 4x400m mixed relay and silver in the 4x400m men’s relay at the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta.
Then came his wedlock with Anusha.
“Both my wife’s parents were into sports but not Anusha. She has done M.Sc (Biotech). Now I have a one-and-a-half-year-old daughter.”
Arokia is part of India’s 4x400m mixed relay team that will participate in the Tokyo Olympics.
Now in Patiala, he and his teammates are being trained by Russian-American coach Galina Bukharana. “On the tracks, the coach is very strict. But away from the tracks she is very jovial,” Arokia said.
According to him, the Indian mixed relay team has good chances of getting into the final.
He said the team is careful about not suffering any injuries during practice sessions.
Arokia said he derives inspiration from Hungarian army man Karoly Takacs, who had won two Olympic medals in men’s shooting with his left hand after his right hand got badly damaged.
After the Olympics, it will be the Asian Games in Hangzhou (China) and the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham for Arokia.
“My regiment is now on the Assam border. Once I stop competing in the races, I will join my regiment,” added Arokia.–IANS