From digging ponds to setting the national record : The Ram Baboo story

From digging ponds to setting national record: The Ram Baboo story

October 7, 2022

Ram Baboo set the new national record for 35km race walk on the final day of the National Games, with the athlete from Uttar Pradesh clocking a record 2 hours 36 minutes and 34 seconds. 

Baboo’s timing bettered that set by Haryana’s Juned Khan, who had set the national record earlier this year at the National Race Walking Championship in Ranchi, clocking 2 hours 40 minutes and 16 seconds. Khan at the National Games this year clocked 2 hours 40 minutes and 51 seconds, taking second place, while Chandan Singh finished third with a timing of 2 hours 44 minutes and 2 seconds. 

The path to the top has been anything but easy for Baboo, but he has not let any of the hardships hold him back. A fighter in all senses of the word, Baboo has taken on every challenge life has thrown at him and beaten it. This is his story.  

Hailing from the Bahura village in the Sonbhadra district of Uttar Pradesh, Baboo left his home in 2018 to pursue his goals of becoming a long distance athlete. Since then, his journey has seen him don many roles and take on many challenges to survive. The COVID pandemic didn’t help the 23-year-old either. 

Baboo moved to Varanasi to train in athletics; he recalls this as the toughest period in his life till date. He had to take up a job as a waiter, and the work timings along with his training schedule didn’t do him any good; he was frequently unwell and plagued with injuries. One such injury, in his knee, was the final nail in the coffin of his Varanasi journey as he left his job as a waiter and started stitching jute bags for courier agencies.

Baboo then left for Bhopal, where he started training at the Sports Authority of India (SAI) centre. The move to Bhopal turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as there Baboo met former Olympian Basant Bahadur Rana, who supported him and even sponsored his travel, kit and diet. Rana is also Baboo’s current coach. 

Just as things were starting to look bright, COVID came along and the SAI centre shut down, with Baboo having to return to Bahura. During the lockdown, Baboo found work under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA) and dug ponds and roads with his father to make ends meet. That also counted as his training as Baboo didn’t have anywhere else to train. Once the lockdown was uplifted, Baboo returned to Bhopal and resumed his training.

He has been working hard ever since and even won the silver medal at the 50km event in the Racewalking Championship held in Ranchi last year. 

Baboo spoke about his struggles, commenting:

After COVID, I went to Bhopal and trained with a good group under coach Surender Paul. I have seen so much in life; I decided it is do-or-die for me. I worked so hard that I was confident of breaking the national record in national race walking championships last year, That was the first time I went to a competition on a flight; it was because the coach felt I should be fresh.

It was the 2012 Olympics and sports was in the limelight. A senior told me “you can make a career in sport” and I started training on a track. There was a hockey coach who guided me a bit but mostly it was me running on the track every day and pushing myself. I used to feel so bad because you don’t get any respect as a waiter. I used to wonder what I was doing there, my training also suffered. My mother also started working from home selling sweets because I needed more money. 

I am waiting for permanent recruitment. At present my training, food and accommodation is taken care of. When I am in the national camp, the federation support helps. But I still have to borrow money to come to competitions like here. I often think how even after being a national level athlete one does not get full time support; only when you become a star and Olympian does financial help come your way.

That [COVID period] will stay with me forever. The lockdown period was tough for us and it has made me more determined to achieve my goals.

Even though he holds the National Record now and has competed in numerous national events, Baboo still struggles to find sponsors who can look after his training and other needs.

Speaking about the lack of support, Baboo stated:

The UP government has announced prize money for the results at the Race Walking Nationals and the National Championships. They have announced the prize money in the newspapers as well, but I am yet to get the money. They have said they will give Rs. 6 lakh to the winner of the National Games. 

I applied for a job in the Army last year. There’s a change in the duration of recruitment and the person in charge of recruitment says I must submit a new application under the  Agniveer. The hardest moment of my life was when I was a waiter. I was very unwell at that time, but I was still working because I needed the money. It taught me what human life is all about. During the race if I am struggling, I motivate myself by remembering where I started and where I am now. If you don’t push yourself, you won’t have any  pehchan. 

I’m currently training as a civilian at the Army Sports Institute in Pune. They take care of my stay and boarding. I don’t have to pay anything. That is a huge help.

All the noise aside, Baboo’s eyes are set on the next goal: the 2024 Paris Olympics.

Aditya Chaudhuri

Hailing from the City of Joy, the things that bring me joy are cricket, a good non-tilt CS:GO session, F1 and movies.

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