Coach C. Muralidharan had a hand in sprinter R. Radhakrishna’s journey from waiting tables to winning medals at State meets

When R. Radhakrishna says life has been hard, he is not exaggerating. Two years ago, he was waiting tables at a coffee shop in Nagawara, pulling 12-hour shifts. He had just finished school and the family’s income simply wasn’t enough. “So I decided I’d work,” he says. “My father worked as a security guard and we were struggling to pay off old debts. I didn’t want to depend on him.”

Athletics, his love, was a faraway dream. In the final year of school, he had shown promise as a sprinter. At one sports meet in 2012, he had been spotted by C. Muralidharan, a coach of repute (and a former SAF Games medallist), who offered to take him under his wing. For the next two months, Radhakrishna trained every day at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium, where he was slowly moulded into a triple-jumper. His coach bought him breakfast every day and gave him money for juice in the afternoon. Then one day he simply quit without notice. No one at Radhakrishna’s home owned a phone and there was no way, Muralidharan thought, he could reach him again.

Six months later, flipping through his diary, Muralidharan found a number Radhakrishna had left, for a friend of his father’s. He made contact and summoned the boy who, he now found, had no hope of going to college, let alone find time for track and field. “I approached the Director of Sports at Jain College, U.V. Sankar,” says Muralidharan. “They admitted him into the PUC course and gave him accommodation and food in the hostel — all for free.”

To Radhakrishna, this was a dramatic change in circumstances. “I had no plans. There was nothing good in life. No one else would’ve done something like this for me,” he says. Then last year, Radhakrishna won a gold medal in the U-18 boys’ triple jump event at the Dasara Games. This August, he won the silver at the State Junior and Senior championships. Last month, at the inter-district meet in Bidar, he won the gold in the U-20 age-group. “My coach has practically adopted me,” Radhakrishna says. “Everything I’m wearing right now — he has bought them for me.” That ensemble includes a pair of triple-jump-spikes, costing in the region of Rs.13,000. Muralidharan is a pensioner — his kindness cannot be overstated. The distances Radhakrishna has jumped have not been exemplary but he is improving. His talent, though, is obvious to his coach, who retired a few years ago as a Captain in the Army. “He is 19, 6’2 and has great potential,” he says. “He suffers from a lack of confidence. That is probably due to his background but it can be corrected with counselling. In three years, he will be making a serious impact on the national level.”

Radhakrishna says he seldom visits his Narayanapura home now because it brings up bad memories. “I’ve had a horrible childhood. Just horrible,” he sighs. His earliest job, he recalls, was cutting sugarcane on a farm near Velur in Tamil Nadu. He was still six then and his mother and he had moved from Bengaluru to be with their grandmother. “Back home, my father had left us penniless. We were practically living on the street; so we had to move,” he says. “I’ve tended cattle, worked here and there, done all sorts of jobs.” They returned a year later, by which time Radhakrishna’s father — who had retired as a Sepoy with the Army — had found work as a security guard. For now, he simply wants to go as far as his sport will take him, and eventually earn a degree in psychology. “My parents don’t know anything about athletics,” he says. “They are happy that I’m not a burden on them.”

source: http://www.thehindu.com / The Hindu / Home> Features> MetroPlus / by Shreedutta Chidananada / Bengaluru – December 26th, 2015