x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

100-year-old marathon competitor gives Dubai a run

The centenarian marathon runner Fauja Singh aimed to inspire people to lead a healthy lifestyle during a visit to Dubai. And what better way to spread his message than a quick run?

The centenarian marathon runner Fauja Singh aimed to inspire people to lead a healthy lifestyle during a visit to Dubai. And what better way to spread his message than a quick run?
The centenarian marathon runner Fauja Singh aimed to inspire people to lead a healthy lifestyle during a visit to Dubai. And what better way to spread his message than a quick run?

DUBAI // An air of expectation rippled through a car park early yesterday morning as runners awaited the arrival of a 100-year-old athlete who completed his first marathon at the sprightly age of 89.

Clad in a black turban, running clothes and sports shoes, Fauja Singh, an Indian-born Sikh from London, arrived a little after 7am.

Not even a downpour could dampen the centenarian's spirit as he cheerfully greeted fellow runners before embarking on his four-and-a-half-kilometre run.

Surprising onlookers, he broke into a series of warm-up exercises, forcing them to follow suit. The warm-up, he said, was part of his routine.

"I want to be able to run like this until my last breath," Mr Singh said in Punjabi after completing his 40-minute run, which began and ended opposite the World Trade Centre. "I hope to die while doing what I love, which is running."

The British citizen's feat came less than a month after the Toronto Waterfront Marathon, which he finished in more than eight hours, becoming one of the oldest runners in the 42-kilometre event.

The racer showed no signs of fatigue or exhaustion yesterday as he effortlessly ran alongside professional runners. He only paused at the finish, where he was greeted with applause and a bottle of water.

Mr Singh is in the Emirates to promote a healthy lifestyle and to attend a two-day tournament of the South Asian team sport Kabbadi that concluded in Sharjah yesterday.

"A lot of blue-collared workers are turning to alcoholism," said Sukhpreet Singh, a member of Sarbat Da Bhala or Welfare of Mankind, an Indian charity in Dubai that sponsored Mr Singh's trip. "We want to promote healthy living among everyone, including white-collared workers, and advise people against drinking."

The charity's organisers hoped that the elderly marathon runner, who does not smoke or drink alcohol, would serve as a strong example.

"Anyone involved in anything illegal should be punished," the British runner said, referring to Indian men who have been convicted over the years for drinking and selling alcohol illegally in the UAE.

He said there were other reasons behind his Dubai visit.

"I wanted to see the Burj Khalifa and the new gurdwara [temple] that is being built here."

A temple for Sikhs is being built in Jebel Ali and is scheduled for completion soon.

Mr Singh was featured in the Adidas global advertising campaign, "Impossible is nothing", in 2004 on posters alongside the English footballer David Beckham and the American boxer Muhammad Ali. He continues to sport the brand's shoes with his first name, Fauja, engraved on them.

A biography of Mr Singh, Turbaned Tornado, by a well-known Indian journalist and writer, is believed to be under way. The biography will be written in English, a language Mr Singh cannot read, but he hopes to have it translated into Punjabi.

Born on April 1, 1911, he began running in the Indian state of Punjab, where he was a farmer. He later moved to England to be closer to his children. He started training seriously only after his wife died. His regimented life includes waking up early, following a sparse diet consisting of ginger curry, Indian breads and a cup of tea, all of which he prepares himself, and four hours of walking.

"I believe in a disciplined life and having a healthy body, mind and soul," he said.

He has participated in several marathons internationally. However, Guinness World Records refused to recognise him as the world's oldest runner after his October marathon in Toronto. The organisation cited his inability to produce a birth certificate.

"To finish a marathon at such an old age is awe-inspiring," Craig Glenday, the editor-in-chief of Guinness World Records, said in a written statement. "However, we have yet to receive the documentary evidence that we need to confirm Mr Singh as the world's oldest marathon runner. The claim will remain open until such evidence is provided."

Mr Singh said hospitals did not keep birth records 100 years ago, adding that his passport, which includes his date of birth, was his only proof of age.

The lack of official recognition does not deter him.

"I give away the money I earn to charities and hospitals in the UK, and I will continue running as long as I can," he said.

pkannan@thenational.ae

The headline of this article has been changed since original publication. Mr Singh did not compete in a Dubai marathon, he completed in a 4.5km training event.