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Know Your Heroes | Anandan Gunasekaran - The Blade Runner

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Know Your Heroes | Anandan Gunasekaran - The Blade Runner

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Subhayan Dutta

08/11/2018

“Time punishes us by taking everything, but it also saves us – by taking everything.” American writer Sarah Manguso’s brilliant thought can be best understood through the story of India’s para-athlete runner Anandan Gunasekaran, who is more popularly known as the blade runner.

Anandan was acquainted with competitive running in school back in 1994 and since then, his love for it has increased boundlessly, so much so that even an amputation, whilst defending the country, couldn’t dampen it. Before joining the Indian army, Anandan was a cross-country runner in Kumbakonam, where he grew up and he continued doing that after he joined the Army.

“It's always been athletics, my love. When I had joined the army they used to have a competition to test the potential of recruits. I came first in that and it started from there,” said a restless Anandan from the other side of the phone.

However, time took the one thing Anandan loved more than his life, and in the most ruthless manner. It was back in 2008 in the month of June, when during a routine sweep operation along the Line of Control that separated Jammu and Kashmir from the Pakistan region, Anandan happened to step on a landmine.

“The landmine was covered in snow and it slid down the slope towards me. There was a loud explosion and I felt searing pain in my leg before everything became a blur," Anandan had told TOI back in 2014.

He was promptly taken to hospital in a helicopter but it was too late by then. The doctors couldn’t save his left leg and were forced to amputate it from below the knee. What followed was a string of operations in Delhi and Pune, and he also had to attend a rigorous rehabilitation program. It was a difficult few months for an athlete in heart and he refrained from revealing the incident to his family for as long as six months.

But, as fate would have it, Anandan was given a wooden leg to walk in 2009 after struggling through lack of financial support and it was no surprise that the free spirit started to run the moment he got it.

“When I participated in Mumbai Marathon in 2.45km (disabled category), I completed it in 9 minutes 55 seconds and the standard for crossing the physical training in the army with a normal leg is 10 minutes,” he told SportsCafe.

The tables had suddenly turned. Either fate had become kinder to him by then or as Anandan would like to think, he had won the battle against fate. He was the sole para-athlete from the Services and now he could focus solely on the one thing he loved – running. South Africa’s Oscar Pistorius was raging the arena back then with two amputated legs blended by blades, and it was a matter of time before Anandan caught notice of it.

If he could run 400m in 58 seconds without two legs, why cannot I with one?

Gunasekaran on Oscar Pistorious

“I found it by myself. Gradually I started searching more on Google, then I got an idea about it and decided to get one for myself. If he could run 400m in 58 seconds without two legs, why cannot I with one?”

But a sophisticated blade like that, which would help one to run with considerable speed and also keep a good balance by basically becoming an extension of the leg, would cost a lot. And Anandan needed the support of the Army to get his hands on it. It cost at around 4.5 lakhs and more than the price, it was about an adjustment to a whole new extension of his body.

“Getting a hang of the wooden leg was tough. I fell so many times, cut my forehead and cheeks. The blade, although it provided less weight and more flexibility, was more difficult to adjust. I fell almost around 500 odd times before I’d get a hang of it. But I was never disheartened. The medals started coming after I started using the blade,” says Anandan, who is helped by the GoSports foundation.

Anandan proudly narrated his list of achievements. He struck his first medal in Tunisia International Meet in 2014 where he won gold medals in 200m and 4* 100m, and another silver in the 200m race. Then in 2015, he won another gold in Men’s 200m, and silver medal in 100m in the Sri Lanka Army Para Games that were held in Colombo. The same year, he won another gold medal in men’s 200m and a silver in men’s 100m in the World Military Games held in South Korea. His list of achievements extended to the next year as well, where, in Dubai’s Asia Oceania Athletics Championships, he clinched a gold medal in Men’s 400m and a silver medal in Men’s 200m.

Among Anandan’s bigger disappointments stand the 2014 Asian Para Games that was held in Incheon, where he finished fifth in 100m and sixth in 200m, and in the 2017 London Athletic Championships, where Anandan could only finish eighth in the Men’s 400m. 

“In 2014 Asiad, I participated. But there was discomfort with a throat infection. In the 2017 London Athletic Championships, the blade had come out slightly and I couldn’t compete well.”

Yes, keeping the blade stuck to the knee at the right place is a tricky thing and while it helps you to improve mobility, Anandan reveals it is also the painful process almost every time. “It gets heated up on and around the knee surface and it also gets cut sometimes when I train. Running with a blade isn’t that comfortable too. So, you control the pain, don’t show it on your face and start again.”

Anandan has been using his current blade for a year or so, but is aware of how to upgrade or get a better weapon. “I got it from London, I had to go there and get it customized. But it can always be better. I had seen a blade at the World Championships, it was unbelievably light, much lighter than mine,” he said.

A blade costs around 4.5 lakh in total. The running part itself is priced at 2 lakhs, while the rest of its parts that holds to the leg are the remaining amount. “We get good blades in Germany too, but I am sure I can pull it off with this one too. Just a little bit more hard work, that’s all.”

Anandan ranks second in the 400m race of the T64 category with a timing of 54.15 seconds, and is second to Italy’s Simone Manigrasso, who clocks an incredible 52.46 seconds in the same category. Being the only athlete in the Services to run as para-athlete, Anandan’s training regime is very similar to them. His training circuit is also similar to those of the able-bodied and Anandan proudly states that he has never backed down from finishing whatever his coach have asked of him.

“I get up at 5:30 am and reach the ground by 6 am.  Monday’s I train on a harder court with Tuesdays doing different pieces of training. Wednesdays, I train on a harder court and Thursday’s normal court and vice versa. I train with the normal athletes only. Whatever the coach gives me on the circuit, I finish it. I finish the program that is given to me and it is the same as the able-bodied,” said Anandan.

Anandan’s mother is a housewife and father, an auto-rickshaw driver, and he has been grateful for the immense support that he has received from them. “I have also got huge support from my wife, and apart from my family, GoSports have also helped me a lot.”

While there was hardly any doubt about Anandan’s preparations that has started in full flow now, I still went ahead with the question as a formality. “My focus is on breaking the World record. I want to break it,” signed off Anandan.

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