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Still running fast at 119 years - Meet Dharam Pal Singh, an Indian cow herder who will compete at World Masters Athletics Championships

Sagnik Kundu
1.45K   //    17 Nov 2016, 19:59 IST

Dharam Pal Singh after his feat at the National Masters Athletic Championships in 2014 (Credits : News18)

The human species never ceases to amaze. Previously, we have seen a 104-year-old man of Indian origin, Fauja Singh running marathons and an 86-year-old iron nun participating in one of the most challenging triathlon tournaments in the world. And now, a man who claims to be 119 years old, is all set to compete at the World Masters Athletics Championships in Perth, Australia.

Dharam Pal Singh, an Indian cow herder, has astounded the world with his health and fitness. His passport suggests that his age is 119 years, and if it is to be believed he will not only be the oldest runner at the meet but also the oldest man alive.

119? Really? Incredible, isn’t it?

His story is amazing, incredible to say the least. But there are severe doubts looming over the authenticity of Singh’s claims. The officials at the Masters Athletics Federation of India are highly suspicious that the man is lying about his age and doubts have been raised by many.

An expert, who goes by the name of Dr. Thomas T. Perls, shares the skepticism as well. According to a report in NY Times, he said, for men, the oldest age is known to be 115 years and almost everyone who has claimed to be older than that have been found to have lied. He also opined that while someone being 119 years old cannot be ruled out, the odds of the same person being a runner are not very high.

However, amidst all these speculations about his age, Dharam Pal Singh has strictly maintained that he was indeed born on 6 October 1897 as stated in his passport. His only concern though is that he needs money for airfare to travel to Australia.

Dharam Pal with his cows (Credits: NY Times)

Being a humble cow herder from a lesser known village in Uttar Pradesh called Gudha, Singh simply does not have the means to travel outside the country. He does not need much – just a simple inexpensive room will be enough as long as he is able to participate. Over the last few days, he has been making trips to New Delhi, nurturing hopes that some politician will help him out.

A paucity of funds has always acted as an obstacle for him. Once he harbored dreams of representing the nation – a dream that was never realised. And it was never a case of not having the talent. Back in 2014, Singh completed a 200m race in 46.74 seconds at the 35th National Masters Athletic Championship as he made history by becoming the oldest man to reach the finishing line of the event.

Dharam Pal has won more than 20 medals at several national and international meets in his age category including a gold medal in the Malaysian championships in 2014. His friends and co-workers stood by him during times when he was struggling to keep up with the expenses. While the government never offered any financial aid, his friends even provided him with food on some occasions. He may have achieved a lot but not without leaving behind a string of doubters.

Unable to produce a birth certificate

What hangs his case in the balance is his inability to produce a legitimate birth certificate. This is a usual scenario in rural India as birth certificates were rarely given back in those days and others, like Fauja Singh, had faced the same problem. In Fauja Singh’s case, his achievements were not recognised by the Guinness World Records as he failed to provide a birth certificate.

His passport states his birth date as 6 October 1897 (Credits: Arathimy)

Dharam Pal, who is illiterate, does not possess any school certificates that might serve as evidence to his claims as he never went to one. He does have a passport, a PAN card and an electoral identity card that attests his claims by mentioning the birth date as 6 October 1897.

The centenarian believes that others are jealous that at his age he is still able to maintain a perfect lifestyle. He even produced a health certificate stating that his age is above 100 years on the basis of X-Rays and has been signed by a chief government doctor from Meerut.

Stable diet is the secret to his health

Singh described his good health as his own misfortune, as now no one wants to believe that a man who is 119 years old is capable of walking without the help of a stick. He said that maintaining a good health at this age has been possible because of personal sacrifices and a strict regime including cow milk, herbal chutney, and ripe fruits. Abstinence from alcohol, tobacco, butter, fried food and sugar and even tea, has helped him be as fit as a fiddle.

The championship authorities are not the humane type, unfortunately. As they have not received any proof that Singh is indeed as old as he claims to be, they have decided that although all medals that the Indian wins will be awarded, any records of his will not be validated.

Despite all his achievements and the several accolades he has won, Dharam Pal claims that he still has one feather that he needs to add to his hat – Fauja Singh’s record in 10,000 meters. At his age, time seems to be running out but the way he dares to dream is enough for us to believe in him, to believe that he will accomplish his dream some day.

Sagnik Kundu
I spend every day at office wondering how they got the table through the door.
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