The beauty of sports is that those who had never heard of javelins are celebrating the success of Asian Games Gold Medalist Neeraj Chopra. Those who cannot spell Heptathlon are gushing over Swapna Burman’s tour de force to bag an unlikely Gold. Those who have never jogged even 4 steps at a time, are marveling at Manjit Singh’s amazing surge to the finish line during the 800 meters race. India’s performance at the Jakarta Asian Games has certainly uplifted moods and inspired youngsters across the country.

Tejinder Pal Toor’s father is battling cancer, yet he found the gumption and the poise to propel the shot putt to a gold medal winning distance. None of these is a namby-pamby, spoon-fed, youngster, having been born with
silver spoon. The women’s 400 metres relay team as well, and almost all of India’s medalists, have faced pain, rejection and even ridicule in their journeys, to reach where they have. Ours is not a society which promotes sporting endeavour; it looks down upon it at most times. What is it that propels some youngsters from challenging backgrounds, with difficult childhoods, to scale the heights of a podium finish at international events?

These are the individuals with that little bit of extra energy and passion, that little bit of extra spirit, and that inner voice which somehow tells them to never give up. These are not people who feel disheartened at major or minor reverses. They are the ones who stick to their guns and bounce back each time. MS Dhoni is a prime example of the spirit of never-say-never. Coming from the humblest of backgrounds and rising to the pinnacle of world cricket as India’s most successful skipper ever, Dhoni’s is an astonishing saga of innate strength and
magnificent ability.

Yet, even the lowly constable who rises to the post of Police Inspector and holds his own while those around him keep succumbing to lures of all kinds, deserves to be lauded. He, too, is a hero unmatched in the ability to hold his head high when all others have lost theirs. One can find numerous examples in the Indian Army of men who gave their lives for the nation despite knowing that they were the only bread winners in their families. And there are thousands of nurses in our overburdened medical system who know no fatigue and save multiple lives by working alertly and tirelessly for decades. These then are the real heroes; those who had to struggle to simply survive, but
who have risen from the ashes to conquer heights of excellence, achievement and sacrifice.

When an impoverished young "wannabe" cricketer sits by the boundary watching a local cricket match being played by his more fortunate brethren, his dreams know no bounds, but his path to glory is dotted with formidable roadblocks. Even an unfortunate beggar’s child dreams of a better existence and at least some
basic comforts. He has not chosen the life which he leads. He seeks to study, to play, to chart his own course in life. But most often he is unable to do so. Thus, all the more, our society needs to encourage, highlight and celebrate the
lives of those who have broken through seemingly insurmountable barriers and made it big, or even a little bit big, by sheer dint of courage and character. The real heroes are therefore tucked away somewhere in our midst, unnoticed at
most times. We need to search for them, applaud them and encourage them to go on shining brightly on this earth, whose denizens are lucky to have them around.

Even by doing a little bit extra for society or by simply doing their duty diligently, thousands of common Indians across the nation are worthy of recognition. On the other hand, sportspersons can invigorate entire nations by their
astounding feats of glory.

Thus when a Manjit Singh or Swapna Burman stands atop the podium with the Indian tricolor soaring skywards, and the National Anthem resounding in our ears, let us take a moment to acknowledge the years of toil and torment that these true heroes have put up with to be where they are.

vivek.atray@gmail.com