Commonwealth Games 2018: After losing his father at 10, India's Dharun Ayyasamy runs to provide for his family
Not much was expected when Dharun Ayyasami registered his name for the Federation Cup in Patiala earlier this month.
Just weeks before the tournament that effectively served as the qualifier for the upcoming Commonwealth Games, Dharun had contracted typhoid. While there was some amount of uncertainty about his participation in the tournament, the 21-year-old jumped up at the first opportunity and booked his name for the Fed Cup.
“When I went into the Federation Cup, I didn’t really have any hopes of qualifying for the Commonwealth Games. I had typhoid just weeks ahead of the tournament,” Dharun said while speaking to Sportskeeda.
“I actually wasn’t that serious about making it in the 400m race. But since I was just returning from the fever I entered my name in that category just for the sake of it,” said Dharun.
Interestingly, not only did Dharun ace the first round qualifiers for the 400m hurdles event, but he also went on to break the national record in a rather dramatic final.
Dharun finished his race with a timing of 49.45 seconds, bettering the national record by as big a margin as six seconds.
“Before the final, I was thinking that I would run just for fun. But then I ended up breaking the record,” he said, grinning widely.
While breaking a national record after recovering from a serious illness may seem like a difficult task, Dharun is someone who has had to face tough corners from a very young age.
An untimely loss
When Dharun was in the fourth standard, tragedy struck his family. His father passed away due to tuberculosis.
This untimely death forced his mother, a schoolteacher, to become the sole breadwinner of the family.
“It was a really hard time. My mom was taking care of every function, every responsibility, everything basically. Mom had to do everything herself,” said Dharun.
“My mom is really like a backbone for our family. She worked really hard to raise me,” he continued. “But she never put pressure on me for anything.
“She never asked me to prioritise between studies and sports. She always encouraged me to do what I wanted to do. The only thing she asked of me was to be the best at whatever I did,” he said.
From Kho kho to hurdles
While Dharun may hold a national record in 400m hurdles now, he had actually started out by playing kho kho in his earlier days. However, coordinating with his teammates was something that he found to be rather difficult, and he eventually left the sport for athletics.
“It’s a team coordination event. So no matter how well you play, you can’t really do much unless your team is good. Hence, I decided to shift to athletics,” he said.
Once he shifted to athletics, however, Dharun soon started to make the steady progress that would see him mature into one of the best track and field athletes in the country.
After impressing on the national circuit at various events in 2015, Darun seemed all ready to make the big jump the following year, when the Rio Olympics was being held.
A 400m hurdles gold at the South Asian Games in Guwahati was followed by yet another brilliant performance with the men’s 4x400m relay race, where his team made a new national record. This run essentially helped the team qualify for Rio 2016.
Although his team did not make it to the final, Dharun gained a lot of experience at the Rio Olympics, which he has now - almost two years later - put to good use.
Elusive finances despite an Olympic appearance and a national record
Despite his steady progress, however, the money factor is still something that Dharun is struggling with. His mother, who is a schoolteacher, works on a meagre salary of Rs 13,000 per month, which is barely enough to run a family.
While things were difficult initially, a sports scholarship that Dharun received at Alva’s college where he studies, has helped him a great deal.
The 21-year-old, who is currently doing his BA degree in Human Resources, receives Rs 25,000 as part of a scholarship from his school. However, despite having represented India at the Olympics, Dharun has not been selected for the Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS).
Inclusion in TOPS is something that is almost essential for top athletes of any sport in India. But most importantly for Dharun, a confirmation for TOPS would ensure a monthly stipend of Rs 50,000, which would help his family a lot.
“Getting selected in the TOPS scheme would be a huge help. My mom is earning some Rs 13,000. That’s too less to manage a family. It's only because I’m getting a scholarship that we are being able to manage the family, and my sports career,” he said.
However, money is not the only thing on Dharun’s mind right now. The 21-year-old's next aim is to better the national record at the Commonwealth Games, and maybe even try and get a medal.
Dharun was not at his best during the Federation Cup, but he still managed to shatter an 11-year-old record. That clearly shows this athlete’s immense potential, and a medal at the Commonwealth Games may not be such a far-fetched dream.