From rags to Asian Games silver: Why Kerala's Muhammad Anas never gave up
Kerala’s Mohammad Anas has been a pivotal figure in the country’s 400m event since the last few years. Most recently, he clinched the silver medal at the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta-Palembang.
Earlier this year, he also became the first Indian in 60 years, after Milkha Singh to qualify for the final of the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games.
In the final, the 23-year-old not only registered his personal best timing but also set a new national record. However, he missed out on a medal by just 0.20 seconds.
Exactly four years prior to this, things were starkly different.
For his family
Born in a small village called Nilamel, Anas began his athletics journey four years ago. Speaking exclusively to Sportskeeda, he said, “Before I was picked up by the Navy at last year’s National Games, things were very difficult for me. Athletics wasn’t proving to be very fruitful as I wasn’t graduating beyond the state level. When I started off in my village in 2012, I was easily the fastest guy in school. But, I couldn’t afford proper shoes, in fact, even when I ran the National Games last year, my shoes were on the verge of tearing. However, I’m glad I stuck to it, it’s definitely paying off.”
The reason for Anas’ late introduction to competitive athletics was the death of his father in class 10. He added, ”The only source of income my family had was the remittances sent by my father from Saudi Arabia. Once he passed away, we (brothers) had to completely focus on getting money for the family. So apart from school, we did whatever odd jobs we could in the village when we managed to become a bit stable in class 12, I started again. It was my father’s dream to see me become an athlete, and now I’m not just running for myself, I’m running for him as well.”
Having broken all school records, he began running in Inter-college events while representing Sree Krishna college in Guruvayur. He went onto win the Calicut city Championship, highlighting his quick rise within Kerala’s athletics hierarchy. He said, “Being very honest, when I started off there was no synthetic track or any knowledge of how competitive running functioned. We used to think then to run our lungs out and finish first. The core value of running is still the same, we only find newer methods to get faster. So back in 2013, when I was running district and city level my goal was only to win. That is the only way I can reach the top.”
With no earning member of the family, both Anas and Anees (younger brother) pitched in doing odd jobs to support the family. With the worry of putting a roof over his head, 2013 proved to be a breakthrough year for the short distance runner. His inclusion in the Kerala Elite Sports Scheme not only confirmed his progress but also removed an existent financial burden. Training under district Coach Jayakumar also helped him reach his true potential.
For his obsession
He added, “Although it's been only three years that I've been running seriously, I think my father's core values has helped me maintain discipline. When most of my college friends used to go drinking or enjoying I knew that firstly, I couldn't afford it and second that it would harm my long-term goal. My coach also helped me remained focused, he told me from day one that I would make it to Rio.
"That time I didn't take him seriously and used make fun of him for pulling my leg. But, now that I have made it I realise how important that discipline was. When my father was alive, he always told me that, if you don't make something your obsession, you will never feel fulfilled in life. That has been something I've believed in my life and I hope one day I can win gold for India and make my father proud.”
Prolific performances at the Interdistrict Championships, including a silver medal at the 400 m individual event saw him successfully secure a spot in the Kerala National Games relay team. Anas' selection in the state was widely revered in his village. He added, “When I qualified for Rio and returned, my entire village was there to greet me. They told me that we also want our son to be like you, parents came and asked me how they could get their child into athletics.
"I told them not to force their kids as the child should be given adequate time to find his or her passion. I might be very interested in athletics, that doesn't mean others would be also. However, I do want my qualification to reflect one particular facet. Mostly people from the smaller villages feel that they can't fulfil a dream. I hope people do realise that no dream is too small to pursue. If you believe in it, give it your best shot.”
The 2015 National Games was headlined by Kerala swimmer Sajan Prakash, who was adjudged the best sportsperson of the event. Anas' performances caught the eye of the Indian Navy, who immediately signed him up. For the first time in his career, he would be paid a salary to do something he loved the most.
He added, “It was a very emotional moment for me and my family because they knew how hard all of us worked to get me there. Now that I could support my family, through a salary meant that I could solely concentrate on my running and help my brother as well.”